Navy removes admiral and captain following string of accidents

Key Points
  • Navy's Seventh Fleet relieves Rear Adm. Charles Williams and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, citing "a loss of confidence in their ability to command."
  • In all, there have been four operational mishaps since January involving U.S. warships, including two destroyer incidents that killed 17 sailors.
  • The removal of the two senior officers comes a day before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Navy mishaps.
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August 21, 2017.
Ahmad Masood | Reuters

The U.S. Navy said Monday it removed two senior officers in the Seventh Fleet following the recent operational incidents that resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors.

The announcement comes a day before the Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing on Navy mishaps.

In a statement, the Navy said Rear Adm. Charles Williams and Capt. Jeffrey Bennett were relieved by Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet.

"Both reliefs were due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command," the Navy statement said.

It follows four incidents since January in the western Pacific involving warships assigned to the Seventh Fleet, including the USS John S. McCain guided-missile destroyer colliding last month with an oil tanker near Singapore, resulting in the loss of 10 sailors. In June, the USS Fitzgerald, another destroyer, collided with a cargo vessel off Japan, an accident claiming seven sailors. Prior to that, there also were two nonfatal mishaps involving Navy vessels.

Williams was removed as commander of the Combined Task Force 70 (CTF 70), the Navy's largest battle force, which includes Carrier Strike Group 5 with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, cruisers and destroyers. He formally assumed the CTF 70 post last summer.

Bennett was relieved of his post as commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, responsible for the Navy's forward-deployed destroyer squadron and commanding the readiness of eight guided-missile destroyers as well as destroyers deployed to the Seventh Fleet area. He also oversaw tactical control of the USS John S. McCain.

The Navy said Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Task Force 76, has assumed duties as commander of CTF 70. It added that Capt. Jonathan Duffy, deputy commander, DESRON-15, assumed duties as commander.

Monday's developments are just the latest fallout from the Navy accidents. Last month, the Pentagon removed Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin as commander of the Seventh Fleet just days after the USS John S. McCain accident.

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing looking at the recent Navy accidents at sea. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is scheduled to testify along with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and John Pendleton, director of defense force structure and readiness issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Pendleton testified before a House Armed Services Committee panel earlier this month looking at the deadly Navy collisions and issued a report. Among other things, the report said "crew size reductions contribute to sailor overwork and safety risks."

"I don't know what specifically caused the accidents," Pendleton testified at the House hearing Sept. 7. "But I do know the Navy is caught between unrelenting operational demand and a limited supply of ships. The Navy has been warning for some time that they've been keeping a pace that is unsustainable."