Navy to convene court-martial proceedings against sailors in 2 destroyer crashes

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By Courtney Kube

The Navy will convene court-martial proceedings against five sailors relating to two deadly ship collisions last year, including the commanding officers of both vessels, a military spokesperson said Tuesday.

Four sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer which collided with a merchant ship off Japan in June, leaving seven sailors dead, will have court-martial proceedings convened on charges including dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, Navy chief of information Capt. Greg Hicks said.

The four include the commanding officer, two lieutenants and one lieutenant junior grade, the Navy said.

Court-martial proceedings will also be convened against the commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain, another destroyer which collided with a Liberian tanker off the coast of Singapore in an August crash that left 10 sailors dead, and charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, Hicks said. A chief petty officer also had a charge of dereliction of duty preferred, or instigated, against him and it is pending referral to a forum.

The USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is seen at the U.S. naval base on June 18, 2017 in Yokosuka, Japan. fileToru Hanai / Reuters file

Four USS Fitzgerald and four USS McCain crew-members will also face non-judicial punishment, Hicks said.

Related: Navy ship collisions occurred amid budget woes, sailor fatigue, leaders say

The decision to convene court-martial proceedings against the sailors comes "after careful deliberation" and was announced by Admiral Frank Caldwell, who was assigned to review accountability actions and punishment in the crashes, Hicks said.

The collisions — which occurred months apart — led to the commander of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, to be relieved of his post. Rear Adm. Charles Williams, the commander of Task Force 70, and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, were also relieved of their duties.

The damaged port aft hull of the USS John S. McCain, is visible while docked at Singapore's Changi naval base on August 22, 2017 in Singapore. Wong Maye-E / AP

The Navy had already announced punishment for the leadership of the Fitzgerald. The commanding officer, executive officer and senior enlisted officer were all relieved of their responsibilities aboard the ship.

"Serious mistakes were made by the crew," Admiral William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, said at the time.

Related: Pacific Fleet commander Swift to retire in wake of deadly crashes

The command officers of the USS John S. McCain were relieved of duty in October. They were said to have exercised poor "judgement" and "leadership," according to a statement from the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Phil Helsel contributed.