WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald, which was badly damaged in a 2017 collision off Japan that claimed the lives of seven sailors, is underway in the Gulf of Mexico for its first significant at-sea time since arriving at Ingalls Shipbuilding two years ago.
The Arleigh Burke-class warship will get a full shakedown of its navigation, mechanical, electrical, propulsion, communications and combat systems to verify it is ready to rejoin the fleet, according to a release from Naval Sea Systems Command.
“The underway reflects nearly two years' worth of effort in restoring and modernizing one of the Navy's most capable warships,” the release said.
At the end of the shakedown, the ship will undergo finishing touches in the Mississippi yard before returning to the fleet this spring, the release said.
“We are excited to take the next step to get Fitzgerald back out to sea where the ship belongs,” Fitzgerald’s commanding officer Cmdr. Scott Wilbur said in the statement. “My crew is looking forward to moving on board the ship and continuing our training to ensure we are ready to return to the fleet.”
The repairs to Fitzgerald were particularly difficult because the force of the collision warped the ship’s superstructure, which throws off the careful alignment of the SPY-1D radar.
Fitzgerald collided with a civilian tanker off Japan following the failure of almost every safeguard the Navy puts in place to prevent maritime disasters. The accident set off a two-year legal battle over the Navy’s attempt to hold Fitzgerald’s former commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, criminally responsible for the accident.
The charges were dropped last year and Benson was allowed to retire in grade with full benefits.
Fitzgerald’s sister ship, the destroyer John S. McCain, also was damaged weeks later in a 2017 collision near the Strait of Malacca, killing 10 sailors on board.
The McCain was mended at its home port of Yokosuka, Japan, and those repairs were completed in October.