USS Fitzgerald will be transported stateside for repairs this fall
By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 15, 2017
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The collision-damaged USS Fitzgerald will be transported via heavy lift ship to the United States this fall to undergo further repairs, the Navy said Tuesday.
The destroyer, which was involved in a June 17 collision with a merchant ship that killed seven U.S. sailors, will be towed stateside between mid-September and the end of October, Cmdr. Clay Doss, 7th Fleet spokesman, told Stars and Stripes.
A repair site has not been confirmed, but the Fitzgerald will remain under 7th Fleet jurisdiction while in the states, Doss said. A small portion of the destroyer’s crew will travel with the ship; however, no decision has been made regarding the remaining crew and their families.
The Navy decided to transport the Fitzgerald back to the U.S. to free up space along Yokosuka’s waterfront for other 7th Fleet ships needing maintenance, Doss said.
“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.”
The investigation into the Fitzgerald collision is ongoing. Last June, the Navy named Rear Adm. Brian Fort as the lead investigator. Fort assumed command of Navy Region Hawaii on Aug 9.
Accidents involving the Fitzgerald and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam have put a strain on Yokosuka’s dry dock space. The naval base has six dry docks, two of which have been unexpectedly occupied by the Fitzgerald and the Antietam, which ran aground and spilled roughly 1,100 gallons of hydraulic fluid into Tokyo Bay in January.
A third dry dock is occupied by the USS Blue Ridge, which is undergoing planned maintenance.
In a June interview with Stars and Stripes, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said the 7th Fleet would be hard-pressed to keep the Fitzgerald in dry dock long term at Yokosuka.
“I’m concerned about keeping her in dry dock here because that dry dock is critical for us to sustain the ships that are here on the waterfront,” he said.
Doss said work will continue on the Fitzgerald while it remains at Yokosuka. Repair crews continue to remove debris, have put a new patch on the hull and are preparing the ship for its voyage stateside.
A replacement for the Fitzgerald has not yet been named, Doss said. Swift told Stripes in June he is looking for a ship to take over for the destroyer and is considering vessels outside the 7th Fleet. He said he has two candidates in mind but declined to name them.