USS Port Royal, CG-71 ran aground off Honolulu.
Son of a bitch.
As a Sailor and a qualified Surface Warfare Officer, that’s about all I can say, Son of a Bitch.
Unless the investigation finds that the sea bottom recently shifted in a manner undetectable to Port Royal, or that the most recent Navy issued charts are in error, the Captain’s career is over, along with the Navigator and the Navigation Team and quite possibly the rest of the bridge officers on watch depending on the particulars of the accident. Whatever happened, unless the situation is extraordinary – the CO is screwed. Command of a US Navy vessel is not like any other responsibility in the world – always and ultimately the Captain is responsible. Period and no exceptions.
Short of a collision at sea - or banging the admiral’s under-aged daughter - there are few things less survivable, career wise, than running a ship aground.
USS Port Royal is a billion dollar, latest generation Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser, one of the most powerful and most highly advanced warships in the world. In ancient Greek mythology Aegis was the shield of Zeus and Athena, and Aegis cruisers are very aptly named indeed. Vessels of Port Royal’s class were designed to protect carrier battle groups against overwhelmingly massive Soviet attacks – and the capability of Aegis cruisers struck abject fear into the Red Banner Fleet. Port Royal’s weapon systems can knock down dozens of incoming ship killer missiles, entire flights of enemy aircraft, or lay waste to a continent. She’s fast, and maneuvers like a corvette and there is damned little that can match her in open combat.
And her navigation system is second to none – if operating correctly she can pinpoint her position to within inches anywhere in the world.
As an experienced Navy officer, a number of things about this accident catch my eye right away – including the fact that she was at sea for the first time in four months following scheduled refit and dry dock. Skills get rusty over a period of time like that. Sea trials are exhausting. And the yards don’t always get the refit and install correct, including calibration of the navigation systems. I can, but won’t, speculate on what went wrong, the investigation will determine that in short order I suspect.
She hit damned hard though, and grounded so solidly that it took half a dozen heavy tugs to pull her off the shoal – after three days of effort, including lightening her weight by roughly 600 tons.
She’s damaged, there’s no way she grounded like that and didn’t take damage, even if her hull is intact. There are sensors and intakes and exterior equipment, none of which were designed to slam into the bottom at speed. She’ll be towed back to dry dock for sure – and there is nothing more painful and humiliating for a navy crew than to be towed into port.
And her Skipper will be headed for the beach, permanently I suspect.
Which is a stinking tragedy, because I happen to know Captain Carroll, not personally, but by reputation. A number of officers who served under him are personal friends of mine, and they hold him in the highest respect. He’s a highly trained, highly educated, and a highly experienced officer, one of the Navy’s finest.
It would be a damned shame to lose a Commanding Officer of such caliber, but that type of accountability comes with command at sea. There is no escaping it. The Captain is always responsible. Always. This is a terrible and cold reality - but it is also one of the Navy’s greatest strengths. We place great stock and great respect in personal responsibility, and while we may regret it in situations like this one, none of us, including Captain Carroll, would want it changed.
In situations like this, I often think our country would be a better place if we held our civilian leaders to such standards.
But that, of course, is merely wishful thinking.
I sincerely hope that the investigation shows a failure in the navigation system, or an uncharted shift in the sea bottom, or anything that would absolve the Captain and crew of USS Port Royal.
But again, I suspect, that is also merely wishful thinking.