The USS Fitzgrald’s journey back to the United States for repairs on a heavy lift ship was cut short after its hull was punctured during the onloading process. The Japan-based destroyer returned to Yokosuka onboard the Heavy Load Carrier Transshelf to repair the puncture before proceeding to a shipyard in the United States to repair the damage to its hull and superstructure sustained in a collision south of Tokyo Bay in June.
Fitzgerald underwent temporary repairs to patch its hull and superstructure in preparation for being moved to the Huntington Ingalls yard in Mississippi for full repairs and upgrades. When the M/V ACX Crystal struck the warship, it opened a 13-by-17-foot hole beneath the ship’s waterline, flooding a major machinery space and several other compartments, including a berthing space where seven sailors drowned before they were able to escape. Above the waterline, the ACY Crystal’s flared bow crushed part of the Fitzgerald’s superstructure, including equipment compartments for its sensitive SPY-1 radar, and demolished the captain’s cabin.
The Navy deemed that repairing Fitzgerald in Japan would have tied up too much of Yokosuka’s maintenance capacity, leaving the other ships based there underserved. Because Fitzgerald also sustained significant damage to its combat systems and sensitive electronics spaces, it required the specialized services of a yard like Huntington Ingalls, which is one of the two shipyards that builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers from the keel up.
After assessing the extent of the damage, the U.S. Navy decided to transport the vessel to the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Missisippi, where repairs are estimated to take at least a year. On November 24, the Fitzgerald was towed out of Yokosuka to be onloaded onto the Transshelf, a special heavy lift vessel that partially submerges for ultra-heavy cargo like ships or oil rigs to be floated over it and then lifted out of the water for transport. During the onloading process, the Fitzgerald was punctured in two places by the cradle that it was to rest on.
The Transshelf took the Fitzgerald back to Yokosuka where this new damage will be repaired sufficiently to make the voyage across the Pacific back to the United States.
The same day that Fitzgerald was returned to Yokosuka, the USS John S. McCain departed the Philippines on another heavy lift ship bound for Yokosuka. In August, the McCain was damaged in a collision near Singapore in August that similarly killed ten sailors who drowned in a flooded berthing space. After receiving its own temporary hull repairs in Singapore the destroyer was onloaded onto the M/V Treasure for transport back to Yokosuka for permanent repairs. But while in transit the ship developed a significant crack in its hull and was diverted to Subic Bay in the Philippines for a damage assessment and more temporary repair.
The cost to repair both destroyers could end up totalling more than $600 million.