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Most USS Fitzgerald sailors to be transferred off collision-damaged ship

A dock worker uses a laser-emitting device to measure the list and position of the USS Fitzgerald after it entered dry dock at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Tuesday, July 11, 2017.

TYLER HLAVAC/STARS AND STRIPES

By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 6, 2017

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Most USS Fitzgerald crewmembers will leave the collision-damaged ship before it heads stateside for extensive repairs and a combat-systems modernization, a 7th Fleet spokesman said Wednesday.

The Yokosuka-based guided-missile destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel near Japan on June 17, killing seven sailors and injuring three, including the ship’s commander.

Only about 50 sailors from the Fitzgerald’s crew of about 300 will remain aboard the ship when it travels this fall to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., said 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss.

“The majority of [Fitzgerald] sailors — but not all — will have opportunities to serve other commands in Japan based on available billets, individual crew desires and the needs of the Navy,” he said. “Some sailors do not desire reassignment in [Japan] and have asked for orders to other locations.”

A team of manning specialists arrived at Yokosuka this week to meet sailors and discuss their reassignments, Doss added.

The Fitzgerald is scheduled to depart Yokosuka sometime between mid-September and the end of October, and will remain under 7th Fleet jurisdiction during the repairs, Navy officials said last month.

Huntington Ingalls Industries was chosen to repair the Fitzgerald because the company would be able to restore the ship in the shortest amount of time, Naval Sea Systems Command said in a statement.

“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, the statement added.

The Navy announced late last month that the Houston, Texas-based Patriot Shipping would move the Fitzgerald back to the U.S. by using a heavy-lift ship.

The Navy decided to take the Fitzgerald back to the U.S. to free up space along Yokosuka’s waterfront for other 7th Fleet ships needing maintenance, Doss said in a previous statement.

“The main reason why the ship was not repaired here is because it would’ve tied up those resources and tied up the dry docks,” he said. “We could do it here; it’s just more cost effective and safer to go through the heavy lift route.”

Two months after the Fitzgerald accident, 10 sailors from the USS John S. McCain died in a similar collision east of Singapore. The 7th Fleet’s commander was relieved soon after the second collision.

hlavac.tyler@stripes.com

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