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USS Essex skipper relieved of command in wake of May collision

The captain of a Navy ship damaged during a collision with another ship off Southern California has been relieved of command, the Navy announced Tuesday in San Diego.

Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, has lost confidence in Capt. Chuck Litchfield's ability to command, the Navy announced. Litchfield has been reassigned to a post with the Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Litchfield was commander of the amphibious assault ship Essex when it collided with the replenishment oiler Yukon off Southern California on May 16. No oil was spilled, and there were no injuries, but both ships were damaged.

The collision, which occurred during a replenishment, was caused by a number of factors, including a temporary loss of rudder control on the Essex and then inadequate "situational awareness" on the Essex bridge, officials said.

The Essex has undergone repairs and will deploy soon for a major international exercise off Hawaii.

Litchfield, a 1988 graduate of the Naval Academy, was a helicoper test pilot, a member of the Chief of Naval Operations staff, and then commander of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard before taking command of the Essex in April.

The Essex was on its way to San Diego after 12 years of being stationed in Sasebo, Japan, when the collision occurred.

Capt. Jonathan Harnden has been temporarily assigned to command the Essex. He was a previous commander of the Bonhomme Richard.

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©2012 the Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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