Skip to comments.USS San Francisco Commander Guilty Of Hazarding Vessel
Posted on 02/13/2005 10:23:15 AM PST by NCSteve
The captain of a submarine that hit a seamount Jan. 8 in the western Pacific Ocean, killing one crewman and seriously injuring 23 others, has been found guilty of operating the submarine unsafely and has been issued a letter of reprimand, effectively ending his career.
Cmdr. Kevin Mooney, the captain of the USS San Francisco, was permanently relieved as skipper after an administrative proceeding known as an admiral's mast. The proceeding was convened by an order of the commander of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Adm. Jonathan Greenert.
Cmdr. Ike N. Skelton, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan, said late Friday night that Greenert determined during the investigation that Mooney failed to follow several critical navigational and voyage planning standards.
By not ensuring those standards were followed, Mooney hazarded the vessel, Skelton said, reading from a statement issued by Greenert.
The mast concluded that Mooney's crew had access to charts that showed there might have been an underwater obstruction in the area, and that a sounding taken just minutes before the accident did not correlate with the charts that were in use at the time, which should have prompted him to be more cautious.
The news stunned several Navy sources who have been following the accident investigation, particularly because Mooney's actions after the accident were characterized as heroic by everyone familiar with the situation. Despite extensive damage to the ship, he and his crew got it to the surface and kept it floating long enough to limp back to its homeport of Apra Harbor, Guam.
The San Francisco was heading to Australia when it came to periscope depth a little more than 400 miles southwest of Guam to fix its position accurately. Minutes after diving, and while traveling at a high rate of speed, the submarine slammed into a seamount in an area where official Navy charts list 6,000 feet of water.
Other charts of the area, however, show muddy water in the area, which normally indicates shallowness, and other government agency charts show evidence of the seamount less than 150 feet below the surface. The grounding destroyed three of the four ballast tanks in the submarine's bow, shattered the sonar dome and smashed the sonar sphere. In addition, a bulkhead at the front end of the ship was buckled.
Machinist Mate 3rd Class Joseph Ashley was killed when he was thrown more than 20 feet and struck his head on a large pump. Almost two-dozen others were injured so badly they could not perform their duties, though they have all since been treated and released from the hospital in Guam. Seventy-five others received less severe injuries.
The crew saved the ship by constantly running a low pressure blower meant for only intermittent use to force water out of the badly damaged forward ballast tanks, as well as using exhaust from the ship's diesel motor to augment the blower.
Despite the force of the blow, the nuclear reactor and the ship's turbine generators continued to operate normally, and even sensitive electronic and navigation gear continued to function.
On Jan. 20, Mooney was reassigned to Submarine Squadron 15 in Guam, pending the results of an investigation to determine the cause of the sub's grounding. Cmdr. Andrew Hale, the squadron's deputy commander, assumed duties as captain of the San Francisco.
The mast means that Mooney will not face a more serious proceeding known as a court martial, but the letter of reprimand and the decision to relieve him of command for cause means that his promising career is over, the Navy sources said.
In a related development, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff A. Davis, a spokesman for the Pacific submarine force commander, said late Friday night that assessment of the damage to the San Francisco is proceeding and that shipyard workers in Guam are planning to make temporary repairs to the bow of the ship so it can be moved under its own power to a shipyard where it can be repaired.
Although the location where it will be repaired has not been determined, Navy sources said it would likely be Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or Bangor, Wash.
These temporary repairs will be engineered to ensure a successful transit, Davis said. As part of having on-hand materials for potential use in these temporary repairs, a large steel dome about 20 feet high and 20 feet in diameter will be arriving at Guam in the next few days. As of now, no decisions have been made about when USS San Francisco will depart Guam, where it will go, or what her final disposition will be.
Other Navy sources said that if the assessment determines it makes sense to repair rather than scrap the San Francisco, the Navy will likely use the entire bow section from the recently decommissioned USS Atlanta to replace the badly damaged bow of the San Francisco.
You have to feel for everyone involved, but IMO the Navy has done the right thing.
I was shocked to see the Navy did anything. Must have been too much to cover up in case anyone went poking around.
I think its pretty much a rule if you run aground the Capt.'s career is pretty much gone. Damned shame too because he had to be exceptional to be a Submarine Capt. and the US has a lot of money invested in him.
He did a great job of saving the vessel, but that was after the mistakes were made.
First there was a mountain. Then there was no mountain. Then there was.
He is responsible if other charts showed it and they were truly in his control. However the cartographer and his commanders need to be held responsible too.
Well its CLEAR that Lord Nelson had a chart that showed this mountain.... bzzzzzzzzzzzt!
No, this does not pass the smell test does it? Seems to me you get one set of maps and those would be the official ones. How many people drive with two or three maps? I dont see how the navy can expect captains to do cartography and drive at the same time.
I also thought that they were running silent. So was there a sounding really or no? If so, did the sounding really show anything?
I have not made my mind up about this, but it does not seem like it should end this guys career.
The unstated risk is that we create a bunch of risk averse general mcclellands when a war breaks out.
The problem here, just like so many other issues, is that the MSM ran with the story before the Navy had finished the investigation. I don't recall that there was ever an official statement from the Navy saying that the sea mount was uncharted. But every time we read articles about it, "Navy sources" were cited saying that it wasn't charted. The MSM wanted it to be uncharted so that they could blame the Navy and ultimately, the Defense Dep't, for this tragic event.
Not sure if I'd trust No Ka Oi with a job like this.
Sorry Commander, but you F/Ued right there.
So much for learning from one's own mistakes.
I would be interesting to see the damage to the boat. Obviously, the forward MBT's must have been severely damaged and couldn't hold the air from the LP Blower. Venting the diesel exhaust into the MBT is something that is not done on a regular basis. Certain safety interlocks have to be overridden have to be done to do so. Must have been very tense while trying to figure that out.
"I also thought that they were running silent. So was there a sounding really or no? If so, did the sounding really show anything?"
The boat was reported doing 30 knots...at that speed you will be heard in Moscow; It's called cavitation.. you are not running silent...silent is slow - 8 knots or less...If he was running at speed, I don't think he would have heard the echo of his own sonar....he truely was flying blind and
totally relying on the charts....Two mistakes: relied on the charts (hard not to) and keeping the old ones to be found later........
Saw it somewhere yesterday. Also mentioned that he may well be charged in the one death.
I figured this was coming.