USS VINCENNES (CG 49) and USS CORONADO (AGF 11), Collision, 9 October 2004


Investigation Spreads Blame for Typhoon Damage to Ships Vincennes, Coronado Repair Bills Come to $223,000
Navy Times
April 11, 2005

As the ferocious winds of a Pacific typhoon whipped across Navy ships docked in Yokosuka, Japan, on Oct. 9, mooring lines holding the cruiser Vincennes to the pier started snapping under the strain.

With the superstructure of the 7,000-ton ship acting like a sail, Vincennes was soon being blown adrift toward the harbor. At one point, sailors hacked through the remaining mooring in a frantic attempt to prevent the ship’s port side fantail – with its Harpoon missile canisters – from ripping across the bow of the nearby cruiser Chancellorsville.

Minutes later, sailors released the ship’s starboard anchor to try to hold the vessel in place.

But the anchor dragged and Vincennes veered without power across the harbor in wind gusts hitting 75 knots. Thirty-four minutes later, it plowed into the starboard side of the command ship Coronado, coming to rest alongside its sister ship as sailors safely lashed the two vessels together.

Despite damages totaling $223,000, no one was injured.

But a Navy investigation of what happened that afternoon faulted local commanders for an over-reliance on what turned out to be woefully inaccurate weather advisories. It also chastised them for neglecting a long-standing Navy tradition of observing local weather conditions and initiating action on their own to safeguard ships.

The report also criticized local Navy forecasters for failing to understand that a typhoon was aiming straight at Yokosuka, and for ignoring radar information that could have given the ships vital warning time to adequately prepare in the last hours before it hit.

“I am convinced that the incident and resultant damage were wholly preventable,” wrote Adm. Walter F. Doran, Pacific Fleet commander, in his Dec. 14 endorsement of the investigation.

Following the investigation, there were no leadership changes at any commands involved, and no punitive action was taken.

The investigation described the events leading up to the arrival of the typhoon as follows:

  • Monday, Oct 5: The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, began tracking a tropical depression labeled 26W located 800 miles east-northeast of Manila, Philippines, moving toward Japan.
  • Wednesday, Oct 6: Naval Pacific Meteorological and Oceanographic Center Yokosuka forecasters started monitoring the intensifying storm, now categorized as a typhoon, and began communicating frequently with the typhoon warning center.
    In a briefing given to Commander, Naval Forces Japan, and Commander, 7th Fleet, by NPMOC that afternoon, the storm’s predicted path was given as crossing the island of Honshu, with its closest point of approach about 164 miles away from Yokosuka.
  • Thursday, Oct 7: That morning, the typhoon’s predicted track brought it within 45 miles of Yokosuka, and Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness “Storm Watch” was set. The condition means that while destructive winds are currently not forecast to occur, there still is a possibility of danger from the proximity of the storm and un-forecasted changes in its track or strength.
    After reviewing U.S. and Japanese weather Web sites, Fleet Activities Yokosuka port operations personnel readied for a possible typhoon, moving small boats into dry dock and shifting the destroyer Cushing to a less-exposed berth.
    In another move, the port operations officer advised all nine Navy ships in port that storm lines and spring lay wire ropes, mooring lines run to help secure a ship in port in bad weather, were available at Port Operations. None requested the extra lines.
  • Friday, Oct 8: Port Operations again advised ships that additional storm lines were available for issue, but none were requested.
    That afternoon, NPMOC advised Navy commands that destructive winds were not forecast for Yokosuka, but that conditions could change and forecasters would continue to watch and advise.
  • Saturday, Oct 9: Preparing for high winds, eight of the nine Navy ships in harbor had their own storm lines in use, and five ships placed anchors underfoot.
    The report found that throughout the day, information from Japanese coastal weather radars that could have helped Navy forecasters figure out the oncoming path of the typhoon was not plotted.
    Just before noon on Saturday, the NPMOC’s commanding officer came into the command center, reviewed the situation with his watch team and left after 21 minutes.
    The last discussions about the typhoon between NPMOC and the Yokosuka-based Navy commands took place at 1:30 p.m.
    Almost three hours later, the typhoon hit at 4:48 p.m., Vincennes parted No. 1 mooring line, then lost three more lines, going “dark” as the shore utility lines powering the ship snapped loose as it pivoted away from the berth.

The investigation laid fault across several Navy commands, including:

  • NPMOC: Forecasters were faulted for not correctly predicting the strength of winds likely to hit Yokosuka, for not plotting the Japanese radar data, for failing to determine that a typhoon would make a direct hi and not giving adequate warning to local Navy commands.
  • Commander, Naval Forces Japan: Faulted for not choosing to go to a higher typhoon readiness level, which could have given local commands a stronger warning to get ready for a typhoon.
  • Commanders 7th Fleet, Carrier Strike Group Five, and Destroyer Squadron 15: All faulted for focusing on the safety of the destroyer Curtis Wilbur and cruiser Lake Erie in the Sea of Japan, and for not paying enough attention to the possibility of the typhoon hitting Yokosuka.
  • Commanding officer, Vincennes: Faulted for allowing both of the ship’s shafts to be “tagged out”