Can the Navy sails its ships?

When was the last time an arm-force branch faced questions so fundamental to its very competence? The U.S. Navy announced it would charge five officers responsible for two high-profile vessel collisions last year, “which investigators concluded were avoidable.”

The individuals include Cmdr. Bryce Benson and Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, the former captains of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, respectively. The Fitzgerald collided off the southern coast of Japan with a larger vessel on June 17, killing seven sailors, while the McCain struck another ship Aug. 21 near Singapore, killing 10.

The Navy said the charges aren’t intended as statements of guilt. The hearings are set for later date.

The announcement itself calls into question about whether the Navy’s Seventh Fleet commanders can navigate their ships as branch reported at least six public incidents of similar caliber. The fleet operates in some of the busiest water channels in the world and is responsible for security in a place that rivals the Persian Gulf in terms of anxiety. Next month, the Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea will undoubtedly demand the fleet’s highest attention.

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