Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer has issued letters of censure to two officers who held key positions on the destroyer Fitzgerald when it collided with a South Korean freighter in June 2017. The letters were delivered to Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald’s commanding officer at the time, and Lt. Natalie Combs, the ship’s tactical action officer.
“Immediately preceding the collision, you went to your cabin, leaving an inexperienced watch team, lacking in confidence, and technical competence,” the letter to Benson stated. “Your lack of presence on the bridge in a challenging operating environment … failed to meet your obligations as commanding officer.”
The letter to Combs said she “failed to use all available resources to assist with contact management and avoidance and failed to use all available sensors to monitor, clarify, and report the surface contact picture.”
Combs also was criticized for failure to identify and track ships that were in close proximity to Fitzgerald, and “communicate in any effective manner with the bridge watch team.”
Spencer also decided not to court-martial the two officers for their roles in the incident, in which 10 sailors died and another three – including Benson – were injured.
Meanwhile, Seapower magazine reported that Fitzgerald recently has been moved from drydock and is undergoing more repairs at Huntington-Ingalls Industries’ shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.