The Navy’s Submarine Force commander on Friday relieved the commanding officer of the submarine USS Minneapolis-St. Paul because of the deaths last month of two sailors who were swept off the sub’s bridge during bad weather, a Navy official said.
Vice Adm. Chuck Munns reassigned Cmdr. Edwin Ruff to a staff position with Submarine Squadron 6, based in Norfolk, Va., said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Loundermon, Submarine Force spokesman. “Munns took the action due to a loss of confidence in Ruff’s ability to command,” Loundermon said Friday.
Munns appointed Cmdr. Chris Williams, deputy commander for readiness of Submarine Squadron 6, as Ruff’s replacement. Williams formerly was commanding officer of the submarine USS Oklahoma City. Williams had a successful tour on the Oklahoma City, the same class of submarine as the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Loundermon said.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of five submarines to make up Submarine Squadron 6, which falls under the command of Submarine Group 2.
The reassignment comes three days after Rear Adm. Jeff Fowler, commander of Submarine Group 8, based in Naples, Italy, placed a punitive letter of reprimand in Ruff’s file. Munn’s decision to relieve Ruff of his command does not remove that letter, Loundermon said.
On Tuesday, Fowler conducted five nonjudicial punishment hearings related to the fatal Dec. 29 incident, in which four Minneapolis-St. Paul sailors were swept from the bridge while the sub pulled out of the port in Plymouth Harbor, England.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins, 45, who was chief of the boat, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Holtz, 30, were killed. Two other sailors were injured. Ruff was on the bridge at the time.
Fowler issued punitive letters of reprimand for the top two officers: Ruff and the submarine’s former executive officer. He dismissed charges against three other crewmembers: two officers and a chief petty officer, Lt. Chris Servello, a spokesman with Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet, said earlier this week.
The investigation is continuing and must be passed through the chain of command, which includes the commanders of 6th Fleet and the Submarine Force.
Servello declined to name the former executive officer, citing privacy laws. The former executive officer had been replaced because of a normal rotational cycle, not because of the sailors’ deaths in England.