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SecNav Taps Industry For Safety Tips After Ship Collisions

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on

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The damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald pulls into Yokosuka, Japan after colliding with a commercial ship. Seven sailors died.

ARLINGTON: The new Navy Secretary announced a civilian-led investigation of recent lethal accidents that will look outside the Navy for lessons, separate from the internal military investigation already underway. Richard Spencer announced his Strategic Readiness Review late Friday, but only at this morning’s speech did he divulge the key detail. His review will bring in private sector companies that have wrestled with safety issues and learn their “best practices.”

The most notable participant is BP (formerly British Petroleum), notorious for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Also involved, Spencer told a DefenseNews conference this morning, will be shipping titan Maersk, boat-builder Crowley Marine, aerospace giant Boeing, and the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories, which maintains nuclear warheads.

“We’re going to first have to get the information together (and then) apply best practices from (the) outside community, inside community, and come up with a solution,” Spencer told reporters pursuing him from the conference, where he didn’t take questions.

Spencer’s “strategic” review will also be much broader than the “tactical” investigation launched by the Chief of Naval Operations and led by Adm. Phil Davidson. Davidson is looking at four accidents in the Pacific Fleet that significantly damaged three ships and killed 17 sailors. According to Spencer’s memo from Friday, by contrast, “this Strategic Readiness Review will examine a minimum of ten years of the Navy’s overall past performance” (emphasis ours).

Spencer seems to be leaving immediate corrective actions – such as firing officers and adjusting training standards – in the hands of the traditional military investigation. According to his memo, the strategic review focuses on “determining root causes,” especially “stresses on the force and the overall cultural of operational risk management, training, and department organization.” (House Armed Services chairman Mac Thornberry just this morning blamed chronic underfunding and late budgets for the deaths).

Navy photo

The USS McCain heads for Shanghai after a collision that killed 10 sailors.

The two investigations will be complementary, not competitive, Spencer emphasized here this morning. “This review will be independent and yet in cooperation with the CNO’s,” he said. “For those of you who think it might be redundant, it’s not at all.

“What we intend to do here is have the review that Adm. Davidson is heading up being the tactical review as to operations and safety and how we actually operate within the fleet,” Spencer said. “The review that I have asked to stand up will be a chaired by a civilian, (and) we have reached out to industry who have gone through various different meaningful events and come out the other side: BP North America with Deepwater Horizon; Crowley Marine, which has created a very admirable safety program called the Road to Zero, turning around their safety record; Maersk has offered to put forth people to help us with operational and safety standards they’ve created….Boeing and Sandia labs.”

The goal is to find “best practices,” Spencer said, adding: “The culture of safety starts at the top.”

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