SAN DIEGO - The Navy relieved the commanding officer of the USS Essex of his position, saying Tuesday that officials lost confidence in his abilities after his ship collided with a tanker at sea.
Captain Chuck Litchfield had been the commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship for only a few weeks when the crash occurred about 120 miles off the coast of Southern California on May 16. There were no injuries or fuel spills.
The Essex was approaching the oiler USNS Yukon to be refueled as part of a routine operation when they ran into each other. Both ships were damaged but were able to continue to San Diego.
A Navy spokeswoman, Commander Tamsen Reese, said the steering failed on the Essex, which caused the two ships to move close together. But the crew was able to regain control of the rudder before the collision.
The investigation determined that there were breakdowns in the command and control of the Essex and in the communication between the two ships, Reese said. Authorities also found there was a loss of situational awareness on the bridge.
All those factors, Reese said, led to the collision.
The Essex was carrying 982 crew members on its way to San Diego for scheduled maintenance.
It had spent the past 12 years based in Sasebo, Japan, as command ship for the Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group Seven.