The Navy relieved two high-ranking officers Monday due to a lack of confidence in their leadership abilities after two collisions at sea ended the lives of 17 American sailors.
U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer — who replaced Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin after he was removed from his position for poor leadership — relieved Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Combined Task Force 70 and Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, according to USNI News.
Williams commanded the Navy’s largest operational battle force, and Bennett led the attached destroyer squadron.
Their removals follow those of Aucoin and the command triad for the USS Fitzgerald — commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson, executive officer Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, and command master chief CMC Brice Baldwin.
In addition to these removals, the head of U.S. Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom Rowden put in a request for early retirement. It is unclear if this request is also related to recent accidents.
The container vessel ACX Crystal collided with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald in June, tearing a massive hole in the side of the warship and killing seven sailors. Another merchant vessel MC Alnic slammed into the side of the USS John S. McCain in August, causing significant damage to the hull and killing another ten American sailors.
These accidents followed several nonfatal but embarrassing incidents, all of which involved 7th fleet vessels.
The Navy is investigating the matter. While some observers have suggested that the Navy warships may have been hacked, there is no evidence to support such claims at this time. Most of the evidence, such as lapses in training and extended deployments, point to a breakdown in seamanship.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer will soon testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the string of accidents in the Western Pacific.
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