THE PENTAGON — The guided-missile destroyer that was struck by a container ship off of Japan last month is set to enter dry dock in Yokosuka later this month, and work to patch the massive hole in the side of the hull is ongoing, a U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman told USNI News on Wednesday.
The move of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) from its pier at Yokosuka to the nearby dry dock comes after several weeks of pier-side repairs to patch a ragged hole where the bulbous bow of the merchant ship ACX Crystal tore through the side of the ship on June 17.
“USS Fitzgerald is getting ready to enter dry dock on Fleet Activities Yokosuka this month, where it will conduct follow-on inspections and repairs,” Cmdr. Clay Doss told USNI News on Wednesday.
“An ammo offload was completed June 25. Additional preparations include dewatering, defueling and temporary patch installation on the hull. Once the ship is docked, technical assessments will commence that will inform options to conduct long-term repairs.”
The container ship ripped a 12-foot-by-17-foot hole in the starboard side of Fitzgerald below the waterline and flooded three major compartments in the ship, which resulted in the death of seven sailors.
A Navy official told USNI News on Wednesday the repair teams at U.S. 7th Fleet faced a difficult challenge patching the hole, since it was larger than existing hull patch kits. Crews had to cobble together enough material to plug the hole in the side of the ship before it could be safely transferred to the dry dock in Yokosuka.
Soon after the destroyer arrived in Yokosuka after being hit by the merchant ship, damage control teams discovered the impact of Crystal not only caved in the hull and smashed the superstructure but also twisted the ship, one sailor told USNI News at the time. The damage required sailors to keep pumping water in and out of the ship to keep the hull stable.
When the ship is stable enough to be relocated to the dry dock, the Navy will determine if the ship will be repaired in Japan or relocated to the West Coast for repairs.
In addition to the damage below the waterline, the ship’s superstructure and AN/SPY-1D(v) radar were severely damaged in the collision. It’s yet unclear how much additional equipment will be found to be inoperable and need to be replaced, but the total could easily tally into the tens of millions.
Fitzgerald was set to undergo a planned mid-life modernization in Fiscal Year 2019 that would have upgraded the hull, mechanical and electrical systems of the destroyer, USNI News has learned. It’s unclear if the planned modernization will factor into the schedule of repairs on the destroyer.
While the Navy is wrestling with repairing the ship, several investigations into the collision are ongoing.
Last month, the Navy announced Rear Adm. Brian Fort, formerly the commander of USS Gonzalez (DDG-66) and Destroyer Squadron 26, will head up the Navy’s Manual of the Judge Advocate General (JAGMAN) investigation into the collision.
Fort, who was promoted to flag rank earlier this year, is currently serving as the commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, according to the notice of his promotion in late May.