USS San Francisco SSN-711 Collision With Sea Mount
Email From A Chief Electronics Technician
On Board The USS San Francisco SSN-711
I thought that I would put out a note since a lot of you have been calling and writing to find out how things are and if I'm OK and what happened. If you hadn't heard, my boat hit a uncharted submerged sea mount at the highest speed we can go at about 500ft below the surface. There were about 30 of us that were seriously hurt and unfortunately one of my shipmates didn't make it.
First off I am OK. I am pretty beat up with my entire left side and butt as one big bruise. My shoulder is separated and may require surgery. They will evaluate later this week. I am very fortunate that I hit the wall and didn't go down a ladderwell that was right next to where I hit. If I had gone down that, I would have got really messed up. I took a tremendous shot to my left thigh from something. If it had been slightly lower in the knee area it would have been really ugly. But all in all I am in good shape.
We hit it at about noon right after field day (where all of us clean the boat for several hours). Thank God we didn't hit while we were doing this or it would have been much worse. We would have had flying deck plates through the air and such. Not good. As it was, it happened while chow was going on and most people were either sitting and eating or on watch.
I don't remember much of the collision. People describe it as like in the movie the Matrix where everything slowed down and levitated and then went flying forward faster that the brain can process. My mind has blanked it out exactly what happened. Adrenaline kicked in and I have no real memory of how I got down to middle level or what I did immediately following. I helped carry several shipmates to the crew mess deck (adrenaline is a wonderful thing - my shoulder was wrecked and I had no idea until about 4 hours later). I sat with several of my junior guys that had bad head wounds and talked with them to keep them conscious until doc could see them. It seemed like an eternity but I'm sure wasn't that long. For those Navy folks that ever wondered why Chief's stomp around and preach "Stow for Sea" This was a perfect example. It definately saved lives.
I am extremely proud of the crew to do damage control, help the wounded and get the boat safely to the surface (for the boat guys we blew the tanks dry on the emergency blow but unbeknownst to us we were missing some ballast tanks/some didn’t have integrity). The ship's control party did every thing exactly right even though they were hurt as well. The Diving Officer of the Watch had just unbuckled his belt to update a status board and hit the Ship's Control Panel hard enough to break some of the gauges. To add insult to injury his chair came up right behind him. Several people were injured in the Engine Room Lower Level area. Lots of metal and sharp edges in the area as well as that's were the boat's smoking area is at. Several crew members are reevaluating that habit now.
Once again we got lucky in the fact that we had an extra corpsman onboard.
One of our officer's was a prior enlisted corpsman that was a Fleet Marine Force medic so he was a Godsend for us. Our Corpsman did an outstanding job getting everyone stabilized and did the best he could for our fallen shipmate. I am surprised that he got him to hold on as long as he did. Our corpsman is definitely a hero in my book. He didn't sleep for 2 or 3 days.
We finally put him down when the SEAL docs helicoptered in to help. Like I said, I am extremely proud of my crew and how they handled themselves. My Chief of the Boat was an inspiration of what a leader should be and my Captain was as well. My XO took out an EAB manifold with his back but still managed to help coordinate things. No matter what happens later, these men did a superior job under difficult circumstances. I am humbled by the entire crew's performance from the CO down to the Seaman that I was checking in two days before.
For those of you wondering, I am sure there will be an investigation into what happened and no I was not part of the navigation preps for this voyage.
I work on the inertial/electronic navigation and interior communications part of my rate and didn't have anything to do with the conventional navigation part of it. I will be lending support to my comrades who were to help them prepare for the pending investigation.
I thank you all for you concern and appreciate your prayers not only for myself, but for my shipmates. We are doing well, we band of brothers and will pull through just fine.
Chief Electronics Technician Submarines
USS San Francisco SSN-711
An Email Written By The DOOW
Subject: Fw: San Francisco Update - DIVING OFFICER
To say that I've had a bad year so far would be a little short on the tooth I think. Last year was a good one for the boat. After spending 5 months away from home in drydock (Sandy Eggo) we got our second BA on ORSE (bad juju), received the highest score in PacFlt for a submarine TRE inspection, aced our mine readiness inspection with 4 out of 4 hits, completed 2 outstanding missions (will have to shoot you), and completed a early ORSE just before Christmas with an EXCELLENT. It was also the first year that Auxiliary Division had a Christmas standown since coming out of the yards in 2002. A-division also took the CSS-15 Red DC award for the second year in a row. My retention has been 100% since I checked onboard in Oct 2002 amongst 1st/2nd and third termers.
We were going to our first true liberty port 2 weeks ago, heading for Brisbane and fun in the sun. As this WOG knows, we were getting ready for our crossing the line ceremony and the crew was really upbeat, and hard charging, we had just completed a great year for the San Fran. To say the world went to shyte in a hand basket would be an understatement. I would put it closer to a nightmare that becomes reality. The seamount that is a large part of the discussion the last 2 weeks is un-named. The charts we carried onboard were up to date as far as we can tell. No modern geographic data for this area was available to us onboard as it is a remote area not often travelled by the Navy. We have one of the BEST ANav's in the fleet onboard, a true quartergasket that takes pride in his job. We have RLGN's onboard, when they are running, are accurate as hell for our position, they also drive Tomahawks. We knew where we were. All of my depth gauges and digital read the same depths as we changed depth to our SOE depth for flank. I can't discuss alot, because I'm still a participent of at least 2 investigations....LOL.
I was the Diving Officer of the Watch when we grounded. If you read the emails from ComSubPac, you will get some of the details, from flank speed to less than 4 knots in less than 4 seconds. We have it recorded on the RLGN's-those cranky bastages actually stayed up and recorded everything. For you guys that don't understand that, take a Winnebego full of people milling around and eating, slam it into a concrete wall at about 40mph, and then try to drive the damn thing home and pick up the pieces of the passengers.
As for the actual grounding, I can tell you that it was fortunate that myself and the Chief of the Watch were blessed by somebody. I was standing up, changing the expected soundings for a new depth on the chart (yes, we had just moved into deeper water) leaning against the ship's control panel with a hand grip, and the COW was leaning down to call the COB on the MJ. The next thing to cross my mind was why am I pushing myself off of the SCP and where the hell the air rupture in the control room come from? I didn't know it, but I did a greater than 3g spiderman against the panel, punched a palm through the only plexiglass guage on the SCP and had my leg crushed by the DOOW chair that I had just unbuckled from. The DOOW chair was broken loose by the QMOW flying more than 15 feet into it and smashing my leg against a hydraulic valve and the SCP. I don't remember freeing myself from it. If I had been buckled in, I don't think I would be writing this. The COW was slammed against the base of the Ballast Control Panel, and only injured his right arm. He could of destroyed the BCP, he was a big boy. Everybody else in control, with the exception of the helm, was severely thrown to the deck or other items that were in their way, and at least partially dazed. Within about 5 seconds of the deceleration, we blew to the surface, it took that 5 seconds for the COW to climb up the BCP and actuate the EMBT blow. We prepared to surface right away and got the blower running asap, I didn't know how much damage we had forward but knew it was not good, I wanted that blower running. I would say that about 80% of the crew was injured in some way, but do not know the number. We grounded in the middle of a meal hour, just after field day, so most of the crew was up. Once we got the boat on the surface and semi-stable with the blower running the rest of the ship conditions started sinking in to our minds. We were receiving 4MC's for injured men all over the boat. I was worried that those reports were over whelming any equipment/boat casualties that could make our life worse. I had teams form up of able bodied men to inspect all of the forward elliptical bulkhead, lower level, and tanks below those spaces. I couldn't believe that we did not have flooding, it just didn't fit in. At one point I looked around in the control room, and saw the disaster. The entire control room deck was covered in paper from destroyed binders, and blood. It looked like a slaughterhouse, we had to clean it up. I knew that Ash was severly injured and brought to the messdecks, he was one of my best men, and one of our best sailors onboard, he was like a son to me. After surfacing I was the control room supervisor, I had a boat to keep on the surface and fight and knew that if I went below to see how he was doing, it would teeter me on the brink of something that the ship did not need, the ship needed somebody who knew her. I have to say that the design engineers at Electric Boat, NavSea and others have designed a submarine that can withstand incredible amounts of damage and survive. We lost no systems, equipment, or anything broke loose during the impact. The damage to our sailors was almost all from them impacting into the equipment.
The crew is a testament to training and watch team backup. When a casualty occurs, you fight like you train, and train like you fight. It kept us alive during that 2+day period. I've just returned from the honor of escorting my sailor home to his family. God bless them, they are truly good people and patriotic. The Navy is doing everything they can for them and they are learning how submariner's take care of each other. During the memorial and viewing on Saturday, CSS-15 provided a video from the coast guard of us on the surface and the SEAL/Dr. medical team being helo'd in, the family had this video played on 2 screens in the background. It was a sobering reminder of what a hard woman the ocean can be. We had to call off the helo because of the sea state, it was becoming too dangerous for the aircraft, we almost hit it with the sail a couple of times. The sea would not allow us to medivac in our condition and that sea state. I was one of the 23 sent to the hospital that Monday. I was fortunate, my leg was not broken, just trashed/bruised. I walked on that leg for almost 24 hours before it gave out on me and they had it splinted. The SEAL made me promise not to walk on it, how do you refuse a SEAL? LOL. So I hopped around on a single leg for awhile, the other chief's were calling me Tiny Tim, LOL. "God bless each and every one! Except you, and you, that guy behind you!". The COB threatened to beat my @ss if I walk onboard before my leg is okay, he's about the only man onboard that I'd take that from, hehe. The crew is doing better, we've lost a few due to the shock of the incident. We will make sure they are taken care of. The investigation goes on, and I have a new CO. I will only say that the San Fran was the best damn sub in the Navy under CDR Mooneys leadership. We proved that. God bless him and his family no matter what happens in the future, he is truly a good man.
I just need to get my leg healed and get back to fighting my favorite steel bitch.
According to various sources the accident was caused by this "seamount" - suddenly appearing out of "nowhere". The sub was allegedly at flank speed over 30kts (appr. 35mph) at a reported depth of 500 feet below the surface, although no official confirmation due to "classified"). The submarine was on its way to Brisbane, Australia (for a routine port visit) and ran into something which stopped the vessel almost to zero speed - reportedly back to 4kts. This was about 350 miles south of Guam in the area of the Carolines East of the Yap Trench, which connects to the Marianna-Trench. Due to info of various sources of the Marine-command and emails of the crew, there where two impacts - the first was very hard and the second was a smaller bump.
Photographs of the USS San Francisco returning to Apra Harbor in Guam last Monday showed the submarine's sonar sphere and forward ballast tanks heavily damaged. The sonar dome, which is always flooded, probably absorbed enough of the impact to keep the pressure hull from cracking, allowing the crew to save the ship. The reactor, located amidships, and the rest of the propulsion plant in the rear of the ship were undamaged, the Navy said.
One man was killed in the collision, and 60 others from the crew of 137, suffered a range of injuries, including broken bones, lacerations and a back injury, making the incident one of the most serious undersea accidents in memory.
Submariners say the area where the sub was traveling is notorious for no-warning sea mounts. The water depth can change 1,000 fathoms in seconds.
“We know more about the backside of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean,” said retired Navy Capt. James Patton, president of Submarine Tactics and Technology in North Stonington.
The area in which the San Francisco was traveling, through the Caroline Islands chain, is one of the worst, with dozens of islands rising out of the water and many more uncharted seamounts between them.
“It's just bad water,” Patton said.
Another retired Navy Capt., a previous commander of the Undersea Surveillance Program in the Pacific. - Raymond D. Woolrich of Waterford, stated: “One of the things I found running the undersea surveillance system is that earthquakes happen all the time in the Pacific, and that's how the earth changes. Could there have been an unknown, uncharted seamount? Sure there could have been.”
The submarine managed to make its way - using its own power - back into Apra Harbor/Guam and was moored at Sierra Pier, where dozens of family members of crewmembers waited. This itself was a great undertaking of the CO and the crew - managing to keep the heavily damaged boat afloat - and manouverable.
When asked how could a high-tech submarine hit something underwater, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, spokesman for the U.S. Navy Pacific Submarine Force said, "I wouldn't want to speculate on the cause. We are going to have a complete investigation. We are going to look at this very, very carefully, make sure that we have all the answers, and try to prevent anything like this from happening again."
No action has been taken against any crewmembers, pending an investigation.
An investigating officer will likely be appointed to look into the cause of the accident, Davis said. One of the things they will look into is whether the San Francisco or any other submarine has taken that route before.
He said the Navy could not release what speed the submarine was going or what depth it was in during the accident.
"There will be classified and unclassified components of it. Things like depth, we guard pretty closely," Davis said.
There have been a lot of quakes in the area, starting with the Tsunami-quake on 26th Dec. and shown by the eruption of the Anatahan on Marianas (see my related posting) on the 7th Jan., around the time of the accident of the Sub, indicating lots of possible geological activity...
Due to a (even small) tilt of the Earth axis (the Tsunami and the 26 Dec-quake indeed caused a "irregular" wobble, that's confirmed...) the Equator shifts a bit and as well the depths in ocean – as the oceans don't flow and behave exactly the same way as the crust. Did you once try to serve a plate full with soup?? And imagine this plate itself made of rubber (the crust) ;-) So the crust reacts - but the water has more inertia and all at sudden the relations of depht, location, etc. could have changed...
Assuming that the Submariners are no "gamblers", the question arises WHY they want at flank speed KNOWING of imminent quakes and possible connected topographical changes in the area as reported in comments of highranking officials and former retired captains.
- Did they try to escape a "shadow", another rogue Submarine?
- Where they moving away from elsewhere than the reported "Guam", perhaps they came from the Indian Ocean?
- Why were they reported to make a "routine-visit" to Brisbane, when the whole Pacific fleet is on alert and two battle groups are at "humanitarian assistance" in the Indian Ocean? No "better use" for this Sub? The battle Groups CVN-72 Abraham Lincoln and LHD-6 Bonhomme Richard are conducting the Operation Unified Assistance at this time, bringing aid to the victims of the Tsunami - but also 'securing' the whole area by immense military power...
Questions, questions, questions . . . .
CO Of The USS San Francisco Relieved
The commanding officer of the USS San Francisco SSN-711 was formally relieved of his command recently and issued a career-damaging letter of reprimand at an administrative hearing, the Navy Times reported. Cmdr. Kevin Mooney learned his fate at a nonjudicial "admiral's mast" hearing before 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Jonathan Greenert. Mooney had earlier been temporarily removed from command of the nuclear submarine: USS San Francisco pending a formal review of the incident, which left one sailor dead and 23 injured. The Navy has not released details of its investigation into the incident. The mishap took place as the San Francisco was making a submerged transit from Guam to Brisbane, Australia. The 362-foot sub and its 137-man crew were moving at nearly 35 mph when the sub struck what experts believe was an uncharted mountain topped by a coral reef about 350 miles southeast of Guam. Greenert concluded that "several critical navigational and voyage planning procedures were not being implemented aboard USS San Francisco. By not ensuring these standard procedures were followed, Mooney hazarded his vessel."
Cmdr Kevin Mooney
Six Members Of Sub Crew Punished For Pacific Crash
Navy Takes Action Following Grounding Of USS San Francisco SSN711
By ROBERT A. HAMILTON
Day Staff Writer, Navy/Defense/Electric Boat
Published on 3/23/2005
Six submariners assigned to the submarine USS San Francisco have been punished for dereliction of duty or putting a vessel in danger in connection with a Jan. 8 incident in which the submarine slammed into a seamount in the Pacific, killing one sailor and injuring 98 others.
The San Francisco was making a trip to Australia when it came to periscope depth to fix its position accurately a little more than 400 miles southwest of Guam. Minutes after diving, and while traveling at a high rate of speed, the submarine hit a seamount in an area where official Navy charts list 6,000 feet of water.
The executive officer, a lieutenant commander, and the navigator, a lieutenant, received permanent punitive letters of censure, Navy sources said Tuesday.
The assistant navigator, a senior chief electronics technician, received a similar letter and was stripped of his Navy enlisted classification, which ousts him from the submarine force.
Three other enlisted men, all members of the San Francisco navigation team, were demoted one rank, one of them from electronics technician 1st class to electronics technician 2nd class, and two others from 2nd class to 3rd class.
Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the Pacific submarine force, said Capt. Bradley Gehrke, commodore of Submarine Squadron 15 in Guam, conducted hearings on the charges Tuesday.
“Six crew members received punishment for actions that led to the grounding,” Davis said. “Because this was a non-judicial proceeding, we're not going to release names.”
Davis also declined to identify by job any of the submariners punished, and would only confirm that punishment included demotions and letters of reprimand. He said the investigation into the accident “is ongoing.”
“My understanding is that the investigation is being reviewed and is very close to complete, but I don't have a time when it will be released,” Davis said. He also could not comment on whether there has been a decision on whether the San Francisco will be repaired or scrapped.
Machinist Mate 3rd Class Joseph Ashley was killed in the Jan. 8 collision when he was thrown more than 20 feet and struck his head on a large pump. Almost two dozen others were injured so badly they could not perform their duties.
Despite the injuries and extensive damage, the crew got the ship back to its homeport of Apra Harbor, Guam.
Navy sources have said, however, that the damage to the ship, particularly the alignment of some of the propulsion equipment, is worse than initially believed and that the submarine may have to be scrapped.
The grounding destroyed three of the four ballast tanks in the bow, shattered the sonar dome and smashed the sonar sphere. In addition, a bulkhead at the front end of the ship was buckled.
Sources said the sailors were all punished as a result of an administrative proceeding known as a commodore's mast, which lasted 10 minutes or less for each of the men and focused on two areas of inquiry: whether the crew had obtained the most recent charts on board and whether it exercised sufficient caution when there was evidence that the charts being used might be faulty.
The punishments, and the lines of questioning, seem to support claims by Navy sources last month that the submarine had not updated its charts with notices to mariners, some dating back to the 1960s and some made as recently as last year, that would indicate a seamount in an area where the water was supposed to be several thousand feet deep.
In addition, the same sources said, the navigation crew had taken a sounding that showed the water to be thousands of feet shallower than on the charts. Though still showing ample water under the keel for safe operation, the discrepancy should have prompted more caution, the sources said.
Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, the captain of the San Francisco, was permanently relieved as skipper early last month after an administrative proceeding known as an admiral's mast. Mooney was found guilty of failing to follow “several critical navigational and voyage planning” standards, a Navy spokesman said without elaboration.
Sources said Mooney is being reassigned to the Trident Training Facility in Bangor, Wash. He is expected to retire from the Navy from that job, the sources said.
The punishments are likely to be controversial, particularly among submariners, active duty and retired, who contend that the crew should not have been held responsible when the official Navy charts showed thousands of feet of water below the keel.
But other submariners have said navigation teams are expected to take extraordinary measures concerning any area in which they will be operating, and when there is a mistake, particularly one involving a fatality, the captain, executive officer and navigation team are always held responsible.
Why We Almost Lost the Submarine
By Raymond Perry
April 13, 2005
Specific details of the investigation into the collision of the USS San Francisco with a seamount in the Pacific Ocean are beginning to emerge and they reveal the incident was far more serious than we originally were led to believe.
The New London Day newspaper published a synopsis of the investigation on Apr. 9, 2005 (“Navy Faults Navigational Procedures In Crash Of Sub”), that paints a grim picture of what happened to the nuclear attack submarine on Jan. 8, 2005.
First, the damage done by the collision was nearly fatal. The article by reporter Robert Hamilton revealed that the forward bulkhead of the San Francisco buckled upon impact with the submerged seamount. Some of the photos of the submarine in drydock show that the deck immediately aft of the damaged ballast tank area has “bubbled up,” indicating significant bending of the hull itself. The buckling of the forward bulkhead noted by the investigation indicates that the ship was on the brink of catastrophic flooding.
The Navy investigation determined that the routine of laying out the navigation plan for the transit to Australia was seriously deficient. Charts in use were not updated to indicate a possible hazard just 6,000 yards from the collision location, and the ship chose to pass within 12 miles of charted pinnacles.
The probe also concluded that the organizational decision-making making onboard the San Francisco was unacceptably “slack” by Pacific Submarine Force standards. Specific examples include:
With the ship’s fathometer showing that water was shoaling over a period of time, key crewmembers took no action to verify the safety of continuing on the planned track.
No attempt was made to verify and resolve the discrepancy in measured versus charted water depth, despite the fact that some key crewmen thought that the soundings taken were incorrect since they were taken at high speed.
- The chart used for daily navigation was a large-scale map with less detail. This was convenient for a long and fast voyage but conveyed a false sense of security when the ship was in fact passing through broken waters.
- It appears that the ship was not using a management tool, such as conducting daily briefs of the next 24 hours of operations, to ensure that all key crewmembers had considered and discussed future hazards.
- An apparently mitigating circumstance was offered in that higher authority failed to send an operational order (called a “Subnote”) to the submarine until the night before its departure from Guam. However, this does not tell the full story. It is rare that a ship is sent out to sea with a subnote “out of the blue.” Were the San Francisco’s captain and crew truly ignorant of this pending voyage?
In a normal sequence of events, the ship itself would initiate the voyage planning process by submitting a request with a proposed track. Higher authority would either approve it or propose changes. The submarine would have the opportunity to negotiate changes in most cases. In any event, such a Subnote only certifies that the proposed track enjoys freedom from interference with other submarines or submerged towed bodies.
It is unlikely that there was much mitigating basis in the late receipt of the final track. In fact, this point seems to have had little sway in affecting 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert’s decision on Feb. 12 to relieve San Francisco Commanding Officer Cmdr. Kevin Mooney during Article 15 Admiral’s Mast proceedings against him for the collision.
So why would a submarine with the fine reputation that this skipper had gained succumb to such unprofessional performance? The easy answer is to simply pass this off as “personnel error”, but I feel there is more to the story.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Congress passed legislation requiring officers to be trained for “Joint Duty” assignments. Such training requires specific education and time spent in joint duty billets – that is, years spent away from an officer’s chosen specialty. My own naval experience has confirmed that this significantly reduces an officer’s available time for professional development in his critical specialty during the period from the 7th to 15th years of an officer’s overall service.
After the joint duty policies went into effect, it was the initial position of the Submarine Force that such training would seriously reduce the performance of Nuclear Trained Submarine Officers. Submarine Force commanders sought an exemption from the new requirement on grounds that the professions of both submarining and nuclear engineering were so demanding that they would not be able to do them justice with the added burden of joint duty. In a previous article (“Why Are Navy COs getting the Ax?” DefenseWatch, March 2, 2004), I discussed the demands of joint training and its impact on the professional development of Commanding Officers in the Navy.
Senior Submarine Force leaders frequently remarked at that time that if they could not obtain such an exemption then submariners would withdraw from joint duty altogether. The long-term implications were clear: Ultimately, there would be few submarine qualified admirals since the law required flag officers to have been trained for and to have served in qualifying joint billets.
But Congress rebuffed the submariners’ objections and directed “no exemption”. After a recent spate of submarine mishaps in recent years, the question arises that the Submarine Force leaders might have erred in not standing their ground.
As a retired career submariner, I believe that the collision and near loss of the San Francisco is an example of why they should have stood their ground. To fully understand the impact of joint duty assignments on career submariners, one must consider Cmdr. Mooney’s career in particular and ask whether he had had sufficient “time on the pond” to have mastered the difficult craft of commanding a submarine. The conservatism and skepticism required for an otherwise good leader to stand back from the day-to-day stresses of running a nuclear submarine and make tough decisions takes a lot of time at sea – not just completion of a PCO course.
Only experience gained from years of on-the-job work provides an officer with the sufficient background, depth of experience and seasoned knowledge to recognize in advance professional errors that seem small at the time but ultimately can have a major effect on the ship’s safety.
In command of a submarine, an officer faces a unique experience: for the first time in his career there is no one to ask if he has a question. The phone lines just aren’t long enough. The CO must solve problems himself – alone. No joint duty assignment can prepare an officer for this.
There is a second potential contributing element to the San Francisco collision. The Navy several years ago merged the Quartermaster rating with the Electronics Technician rating as a means of saving money during a period of personnel cutbacks. What did the Submarine Force lose in eliminating this professional set of sailors, and was it worth it?
Another key element of the San Francisco investigation appears to be that five key Notices to Mariners were not applied to the specific chart which the submarine was using to ensure safe passage at the time of the collision.
Updating charts to ensure all applicable Notices to Mariners have been entered is a mundane and never ending but truly vital task. To a Quartermaster, it is a key element of his professional performance. To an Electronics Technician, it might be, at best, another administrative task.
The chart makers have come in for their round of criticism for not updating the particular chart used by the submarine. In the world of cartography, there is never enough money to map the world and recent combat posed many critical and immediate demands on that community of specialists.
This chart had been updated five times in recent years, but the Navy probe found that Mooney’s subordinates did not ensure these updates made it onto the chart, and thus to the navigation team.
A third factor revealed in the probe is the common and expected practice of employing dead-reckoning to show if a ship is standing into danger. The practice is to lay out the ship’s present course and speed for the next few position fix intervals or four hours in the open ocean (See Chapter 7 of “The American Practical Navigator”). This practice presents a visual display of potential danger immediately available to those navigating the ship, if its course and speed are not changed.
Quartermasters do this in their sleep as second nature and a core element of their profession. To an Electronics Technician this too would be another administrative task among many.
Quartermasters know charts and the potential inaccuracies inherent in a chart based on information predating satellite mapping of the world (see “The Navigator’s Paradox,” DefenseWatch, Feb. 1, 2005). When a Quartermaster sees a series of soundings indicating a shoaling bottom not shown on the chart, it should, and does, set off loud warning bells.
Electronics Technicians are professionals too. They work hard in their chosen field. But each professional field within the Navy operates to different sets of priorities. When the Submarine Force did away with its Quartermaster rating and rolled its responsibilities into another rating, some things that were done instinctively disappeared
I believe that the performance of key people in the chain of command within the San Francisco was deficient. Each of these individuals on board has paid a price for his performance.
But the Submarine Force leadership must also recognize and take responsibility for larger issues. When the core ethos of a professional organization is challenged as in the case of the joint duty requirement, leaders must not only recognize the proposal for what it really does to the organization, but also stand their ground.
Congress’ goal of creating a more perfect officer corps has its down sides. The most well-trained Joint Qualified Officer is of no value if he cannot get his ship to the fight, ready to fight on arrival.
Neither does a budget process that is incapable of recognizing when it has become pennywise and pound-foolish. Whatever savings were taken in doing away with the Submarine Quartermaster rate have been overrun many times by the cost of this accident.
The emerging full picture of the San Francisco accident is even more disturbing than we initially knew: Reduced “time on the pond” for a commanding officer and the loss of a set of core skills came together to set the stage for the near-loss of a submarine and its crew.
In fact, the underwater collision on Jan. 8 will probably result in the premature retirement of the submarine due to the high estimated costs of repairing it. As a forward deployed submarine, USS San Francisco was truly valuable in being permanently stationed within the vast Western Pacific operating area.
USS San Francisco’s loss to the Submarine Force, the Navy and the nation will be felt for years.