YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The crippled USS Fitzgerald was forced to return to its homeport Monday after suffering further damage while being loaded onto a heavy lift vessel for its trip stateside.
The guided-missile destroyer was sent back to repair two new punctures in the ship’s hull, the Navy announced Monday afternoon. The punctures were caused by the heavy lift vessel MV Transshelf’s steel support structure while the Fitzgerald was being loaded.
The Navy estimates the repairs will take several days after which the Fitzgerald will resume its journey to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., for fixes and upgrades.
The warship was towed into deep waters early Friday so it could link up with the Transshelf for the multiday loading process.
A deadly collision on June 17 between the Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged merchant ship killed seven sailors and injured three others. The Navy relieved the ship’s two senior officers and a senior enlisted sailor. A slew of officer and enlisted watch standers were also held accountable for the accident.
Only about 50 sailors from the Fitzgerald’s crew of about 300 will remain aboard the ship as it travels back to the U.S., 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss previously told Stars and Stripes.
“The majority of [Fitzgerald] sailors — but not all — will have opportunities to serve other commands in Japan based on available billets, individual crew desires and the needs of the Navy,” he said. “Some sailors do not desire reassignment in [Japan] and have asked for orders to other locations.
Huntington Ingalls Industries was chosen to repair the Fitzgerald because the company would be able to restore the ship in the shortest amount of time, Naval Sea Systems Command said in August.
“Given the complexity of the work and the significant unknowns of the restoration, the Navy determined that only an Arleigh Burke-class shipbuilder could perform the effort,” the statement said.
The project’s start date, scope, cost and timeline are still to be determined, it added.
The Navy decided to take the Fitzgerald back to the U.S. to free up space along Yokosuka’s waterfront for other 7th Fleet ships needing maintenance, Doss said in a previous statement.
“The main reason why the ship was not repaired here is because it would’ve tied up those resources and tied up the dry docks,” he said. “We could do it here; it’s just more cost effective and safer to go through the heavy lift route.”
The Fitzgerald incident was the first of two deadly accidents involving U.S. warships in the Pacific this year. Ten sailors were killed in August when the USS John. S. McCain — also homeported at Yokosuka — collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore.
The Navy has blamed the collisions on tired crews who hadn’t received the necessary training due to constant deployments.
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