Navy commander is fired after LCS collides with cargo ship in St. Lawrence River

The future littoral combat ship Billings conducts acceptance trials on Lake Michigan, Dec. 6, 2018. The commanding officer of the ship has been removed from duty after a collision between it and a cargo ship on St. Lawrence River in Montreal.



WASHINGTON — The commanding officer of a Navy littoral combat ship that struck a moored merchant ship in the St. Lawrence River in Montreal has been removed from duty “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command," the service said Monday.

Cmdr. Michael Johnson was relieved of command Friday of the yet-to-be-commissioned Billings LCS’s blue crew, said Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a spokeswoman for the Norfolk, Va.-based Naval Surface Force Atlantic.

The firing by Capt. Shawn Johnston, the chief of Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2, came one week after the Billings collided with the cargo ship Rosaire A. Desgagnes.

Hillson said the Billings suffered minor damage in the incident and no one was injured. The ship departed Montreal on Monday en route to Florida, where it is set to be commissioned Aug. 3 in Key West. It will be home-stationed at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville.

The Billings was being assisted by two tugboats when its starboard side made contact with the cargo ship, the U.S. Naval Institute reported last week. It was not clear whether a local pilot or a member of the Billings’ crew was in control of the ship at the time of the incident, according to USNI, which first reported Johnson’s removal.

Johnson had commanded the Billings’ blue crew — one of two crews that man the ship — since June 2018. He was assigned temporarily to a staff position with Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2.

Hillson said the ship’s previous commander, Cmdr. Nate Rowan, will command the ship temporarily. He most recently was commanding the blue crew of the USS Wichita, another LCS.

Littoral combat ships are relatively small, agile warships designed to conduct operations near coastlines. They can deploy landing craft and helicopters. They first joined the fleet in 2008, when the USS Freedom was commissioned.

The Billings, named for the largest town in Montana, is the Navy’s 17th LCS and was delivered to the service in 2017. Its commissioning later this summer will mark the ship and its crew as ready to operate on active duty, according to the Navy.

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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