WASHINGTON, D.C. — The commander of the guided missile destroyer that was struck by a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel last month off Japan was temporarily relived of command for medical reasons, a U.S. 7th Fleet spokesperson told USNI News on Tuesday.
Cmdr. Bryce Benson was removed from his position by Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 15 on Tuesday to recuperate from injuries he sustained following the collision of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and ACX Crystal, spokesperson Cmdr. Clay Doss told USNI News on Tuesday.
Doss stressed the several ongoing investigations into the collision and the deaths of seven sailors aboard did not factor in Benson’s relief from command of Fitzgerald.
While Doss would not specify the type of injuries Benson sustained or was recovering from, the commander had been injured when his cabin was crushed and warped by the bow of the merchant ship and he was hanging outside the side of the destroyer before the crew rescued him by breaking down the door to his stateroom, according to several accounts of the incident. Benson was medevaced by Japanese forces following the collision. A sailor who saw Benson following the collision after the destroyer reached the naval base at Yokosuka told USNI News Benson was walking but “moving gingerly.”
Meanwhile, the stricken ship has entered a dry dock in Yokosuka so the service can evaluate the extent of the damage of the destroyer before it can decide where the ship should be repaired – Japan or back in the United States.
Though the ship reached the pier at Yokosuka hours after the collision, the Navy conducted active damage control efforts for days.
Crystal had not only ripped a 12-foot-by-17-foot hole in the starboard side of Fitzgerald below the waterline, crushed the super structure and flooded three major compartments in the ship the impact but also twisted the hull of the ship and destroyed tens of millions of dollars on electrical equipment.
Before the ship could even be moved to dry dock, divers had to weld a complex web of hull patches to secure the hull enough to make the trip that was completed just ahead of the dry dock move on Tuesday.
“Preparations for the move included installation of a temporary patch on the hull beneath the water line as well as dewatering and defueling of affected spaces,” read a statement from U.S. 7th Fleet.
“Fitzgerald sailors participated in all preparations and continue to resume their normal routine.”
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 ship is being evaluated, several investigations are ongoing to determine what happened when Crystal and Fitzgerald.
Last month, the Navy announced the recently promoted 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.
The following is the complete July 11, 2017 statement on the relief of Cmdr. Bryce Benson.
USS Fitzgerald CO Temporarily Relieved in Yokosuka
By Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet
YOKOSUKA Japan — The commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer, USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), was relieved temporarily July 11 for medical reasons.
Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who is recovering from injuries sustained during Fitzgerald’s June 17 collision with the merchant vessel ACX Crystal, was relieved temporarily by Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 15.
Cmdr. John Fay will assume temporary duties as Fitzgerald’s commanding officer. Fay is currently assigned to Commander, Task Force 70 staff and served previously as commanding officer of USS Howard (DDG 83).
Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer forward deployed to Yokosuka since September 2004 as part of U.S. 7th Fleet.