US Navy probes destroyer crash that killed seven in Japan

The damaged USS Fitzgerald is seen near the US Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2017
0

US Navy probes destroyer crash that killed seven in Japan

TOKYO: A probe into the crash between a US navy destroyer and a Philippine-flagged cargo ship was under way Monday, as the names of seven American sailors who died were made public.
Investigators were looking at how the USS Fitzgerald came to be holed in the smash in a busy shipping lane near its home port.
The container ship, the 222-meter Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, made a 180 degree turn shortly before the accident, according to data from the Marine Traffic website. It was not immediately clear what prompted the sharp turn.
The US Navy and Japan’s coast guard are conducting separate inquiries, but will likely be co-operating, a spokesman for Japan’s transport safety board said.
Japanese coast guard investigators will be interviewing the Filipino crew of the Japanese-owned container ship, although the US has primary jurisdiction in investigating accidents involving military.
Citing local investigators, Japan’s top-selling Yomiuri newspaper said Monday that the damage on both ships suggests they were traveling in the same direction when the crash occurred, 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka.
The impact tore a huge gash in the Fitzgerald, sending gallons of water flooding into the berths where the crew were sleeping.
The bodies of the sailors, who were aged between 19 and 37, were recovered by navy divers after their 154-meter vessel limped into port.
The huge commercial vessel came into Yokosuka with large scrapes on its bow, but none of its 20 crew were injured.
Japan’s coast guard is also investigating why it took nearly an hour before the Philippine ship reported the collision, a coast guard spokesman said.
“We had first announced that the collision occurred at 2:20 am, based on the initial report from the Philippine ship, but we have now changed it to 1:30 am after directly hearing from the crew,” the spokesman said.
“We are checking what happened during the time and why the report was delayed,” he added.
There have been around 30 boat crashes over the past decade in the area, including a 2013 incident when six Japanese crew died after their cargo ship crashed with another vessel in the early morning hours, a coast guard spokesman said.
“That’s considered a lot of accidents,” he said, adding that many ships pass through the channel in the middle of the night to be on time for morning cargo pick-ups.
“There are all kinds of ships navigating those waters.”
Under maritime law, the container ship had an obligation to avoid a collision if it was trying to overtake the destroyer from behind.
But if the container vessel was approaching from the US ship’s right side, the destroyer had the obligation to give way, another Japanese coast guard spokesman said.
“Generally speaking, if a ship sees another vessel on its right hand side it has the obligation to avoid” a collision, he added.
Investigators are sure to put the vessels’ trackable movements under a microscope to figure out what set the deadly crash in motion, said Shoji Fujimoto, a maritime safety expert at Japan’s Kobe University.
“Probably the bulbous bow of the container ship, which is below the waterline, crashed into the hull of the naval ship,” he added, referring to a protuberance at the front of some ships designed to reduce wave resistance.
“Modern-day destroyers’ hulls are made from very thin steel sheets...so they’re vulnerable in a crash.”
On Sunday, US 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin said the crew would have had little chance of escaping the “tremendous” amount of water that gushed into the ship after the accident tore open its side.
“A significant part of the crew was sleeping,” he told reporters. “There wasn’t a lot of time in spaces that were open to the sea.”
“So, it was traumatic. As to how much warning they had — I don’t know.”
Several other US crewmembers were injured in the accident and had to be evacuated by air to hospital, including the vessel’s commanding officer Bryce Benson.
He and a couple of other crewmembers have since been released from hospital.


Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

Updated 17 January 2019
0

Vladimir Putin gets lavish welcome on visit to ally Serbia

  • Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade
  • Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership

BELGRADE, Serbia: Vladimir Putin received a hero’s welcome in ally Serbia on Thursday as the Russian president attempted to maintain political and economic influence in the Balkans, which is increasingly looking Westward.
Putin’s presidential plane was escorted over Serbian airspace by MiG-29 fighter jets he recently donated to Serbia as he arrived for the one-day visit. Church bells tolled, guns saluted and people waved Russian and Serbian flags on Putin’s route through the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Serbia has maintained close links with traditional Slavic ally Russia despite formally seeking European Union membership. It has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has pledged to stay out of NATO.
Putin has recently stepped up efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Putin and his host, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, praised the relationship between the two countries. Putin handed a top Russian honor to Vucic, who gave a puppy of a Serb dog breed to the Russian president.
Vucic thanked Russia for its support for Serbia’s claim over Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008, and added that “however small,” Serbia has been a “reliable partner” to Russia.
Several bilateral agreements were signed, including on the supply of Russian gas and weapons to Serbia.
On the gas, Putin said Russian companies are ready to invest about $1.4 billion into a stretch of a pipeline that would go from Turkey via EU-member Bulgaria to Serbia and then on to Hungary, “but in the end, everything will depend on other countries, including the European Union.”
Putin’s visit come as thousands have been holding weekly demonstrations against Vucic because of what they see as his autocratic rule.
Tens of thousands of Vucic’s right-wing party supporters were bused into the capital on Thursday to gather in front of the St. Sava Orthodox church, which the two presidents visited. They were chanting slogans including “Serbia-Russia, we don’t need the European Union!“
Vucic’s critics say the gathering was staged to suggest that the Serbian leader has many more supporters than opponents, who have been marching the same route since December to demand free elections and media.
Several liberal Serbian rights groups issued a statement on Thursday protesting “glorification of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.”
It said that Putin’s visit “indicates that the Serbian rulers are ready to sacrifice human rights and better living standards of citizens because of their servile attitude toward Putin’s regime.”
Russia’s interest in Serbia relates to its strategic position between East and West. Of Serbia’s eight neighbors, five are NATO members and two more are seeking membership; and four are in the EU and two more are working toward accession. Serbia remains Moscow’s only ally in the region.
Unlike NATO, Putin formally does not oppose Serbia’s EU path and analysts believe that this is because he wants a staunch ally — or perhaps a Trojan horse — within the 28-nation bloc.
Putin’s popularity in Serbia is mostly because the Kremlin is supporting Serbia in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence. In contrast, most Western countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood.