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Navy: ‘Ineffective’ leadership in sub collision

The crew aboard a U.S. submarine made dozens of errors before the vessel collided with an American warship in the Persian Gulf, a Navy review finds.
Image: USS Hartford
The USS Hartford pulls into a dock in Bahrain on March 21 after hitting another U.S. warship.Cmdr. Jane Campbell / U.S. Navy via AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The crew aboard a U.S. submarine made dozens of errors before the vessel collided with an American warship in the Persian Gulf, an accident that exposed lax leaders who tolerated sleeping, slouching and a radio room rigged with music speakers, a Navy review found.

Navy investigators placed blame for the March collision on the submarine's "ineffective and negligent command leadership," including what they called a lack of standards and failure to adequately plan for crossing the busy Strait of Hormuz.

The Navy Times newspaper first reported the findings Sunday after obtaining a heavily redacted copy of the Navy's report through a Freedom of Information Act request. A Connecticut newspaper, The Day of New London, made a similar request and reported the findings Wednesday.

The USS Hartford, a nuclear-powered submarine based in Groton, Conn., collided with the USS New Orleans, a San Diego-based Navy amphibious ship, on March 20 in the narrow, heavily traveled strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Warship repairs top $100 million
The New Orleans' fuel tank was ruptured and 15 sailors on the Hartford sustained minor injuries. The collision caused $2.3 million in damage to the New Orleans, and the cost so far of repairs to the Hartford is $102.6 million, the newspaper reported.

Messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday for representatives of the Pentagon and of the U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton were not immediately returned.

The chief of the boat was reassigned and several crew members were punished for poor performance, the newspaper reported.

The report said the crew of the New Orleans bears no fault, and that crew members aboard the USS Hartford made numerous errors in the hour before the collision.

"Correction of any one of nearly 30 tactical and watchstander errors, or adherence to standard procedures, could have prevented this collision," Adm. John Harvey Jr., commander of commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, wrote in endorsing the investigation's findings.

Five known 'sleepers'
The submarine had five known "sleepers," or sailors who would routinely nod off on watch, but no disciplinary action was taken, the report states. Two of the five sailors were working during the collision, but investigators found no evidence they were asleep.

During the hour before the collision, investigators say, sonar operators in charge of monitoring nearby ships were chatting informally; the supervisor left his station; the navigator was taking an exam while listening to his iPod; and the officer in command did not check the periscope.

The lax behavior that day wasn't unusual, according to the report. The Hartford's command leadership routinely observed informal behavior by sailors operating the submarine, but did not immediately correct it, investigators found.

Those driving the ship would often slouch in their seats with one hand on the controls, and sometimes take their shoes off. Sonar operators and radiomen were missing from their stations for extended periods, and speakers were added to the radio room to listen to music during work.

"This appearance of a lack of standards, and of a general reticence to hold personnel accountable to standards, did not inspire either the questioning attitude or the forceful watch team backup" that could have helped avoid the collision, the report said.

The Hartford's commanding officer, Cmdr. Ryan Brookhart, was relieved of his duties after the accident. He could not immediately be located for comment Wednesday.