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After delay, USS Fitzgerald finally departs Japan for repairs in Mississippi

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald leaves its berthing area at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, aboard the heavy lift transport vessel MV Transshelf, Dec. 1, 2017.

BENJAMIN DOBBS/U.S. NAVY PHOTO

By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2017

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The collision-damaged USS Fitzgerald has finally left Japan for repairs stateside after an earlier attempt was canceled due to a botched loading process.

The guided-missile destroyer departed its Yokosuka homeport Saturday morning aboard the heavy lift vessel MV Transshelf, the Navy said. The Fitzgerald is being taken to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., for fixes and upgrades.

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.

The crippled warship attempted to leave Yokosuka on Nov. 23, but was sent back days later to repair two new punctures in the ship’s hull caused by the Transshelf’s steel support structure during loading.

Huntington Ingalls Industries was chosen to repair the destroyer because the company would be able to restore the ship in the shortest amount of time, Naval Sea Systems Command said in a statement issued 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 Fitzgerald incident was the first of two deadly accidents involving U.S. warships in the Pacific this year. Ten more sailors were killed in August when the USS John. S. McCain — also homeported at Yokosuka — collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore.

The McCain, which is scheduled to be repaired at Yokosuka, has been delayed reaching its homeport after the discovery of additional cracks in the ship’s hull diverted it to the Philippines.

hlavac.tyler@stripes.com

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