Troubling Trend in Warship, Merchant Vessel Collisions

The second collision at sea in three months involving a commercial tanker and a U.S. naval destroyer raises serious questions about the training and communication protocols used by the Pacific fleet.Charles Herd, a litigator with significant experience in maritime cases at Houston’s Lanier Law Firm, says that prudent seamanship calls for merchant and military ships to talk to each other and to stay clear of each other.

Navy ships have a much higher number of officers and crew than are on modern commercial ships. Given the impact in the port quarter of the USS John S. McCain and the previous damage to the superstructure of the USS Fitzgerald, it appears that both vessels were struck from the bow of the commercial ships. This makes it likely that either the Navy ships crossed in front of the commercial ships or the commercial ships did not slow down or steer away, says Mr. Herd.

The Navy’s preliminary analysis already places some fault on the officers of the Fitzgerald, and Mr. Herd notes that if further evidence shows that both collisions occurred in busy waters, with numerous vessels in the vicinity, all the vessels involved likely bear some responsibility for failing to keep a sharp lookout and maneuver to avoid a collision.

I expect there will be shared fault once all the investigations are completed, he says.


For more information or to set up an interview with Mr. Herd, contact J.D. Cargill at 713-659-5200 or

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