Submarines: March 28, 2005

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The investigation of the USS San Francisco accident has been completed. Six members of the crew were given non-judicial (no court martial) punishment for their actions, or inactions, that caused the nuclear submarine to collide with an underwater mountain top. At the time (last January), the sub was traveling at high speed (over 50 kilometers an hour) and at 500 feet depth. The proceedings of the hearing were not released, partly because of the secret information (of nuclear sub operations) discussed, and because details of non-judicial punishments are kept confidential. The six sailors included officers, senior NCOs and lower ranking sailors. Punishment ranged from letters of reprimand to reduction in rank. The charges were hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty. From what has leaked out, the investigators concluded that these six crewmen could have detected the approaching sea mount and taken evasive action if they had followed proper procedures. The captain of the sub was earlier relieved of command.

At the same time, the navy also gave awards, for helping save the submarine after the collision, to eighteen NCOs and two officers. These included two Meritorious Service Medals, nine Commendation Medals, four Achievement Medals and five Letters Of Commendation.

The lack of courts martial indicates that the navy didnt feel it had strong enough evidence for that approach, which is more like a jury trial, and demands more compelling evidence. The non-judicial punishment hurts, but does not destroy, the career of a submariner. This is because the navy has a hard time recruiting qualified people for this kind of work. The navy could have held one or more courts martial, but apparently were convinced that just using the non-judicial punishment would get the matter behind them with a minimum of fuss and penalty. The charges in the non-judicial hearings were of the you should have seen this coming and been more cautious variety. Anyone who knows anything about nuclear submarines, and their crews, knows that these are the most cautious and deliberate sailors in the fleet. Eventually, more details of these proceedings, and the collision itself, will come out.

 


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