Navy Ships in Crowded Seas to Broadcast Locations

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers toward Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Aug. 21, following a collision with a merchant ship east of the Straits of Malacca. (US Navy photo/Joshua Fulton)
Stars and Stripes

The U.S. Navy will issue new directives that require ship commanders operating in congested seas to broadcast their ships' locations in an effort to avoid collisions, according to a report that aired on National Public Radio on Friday.

That's a significant change from the norm. To maintain proper operational security, known as OPSEC, the Navy typically doesn't advertise ship movements. But recent collisions at sea have top Navy brass reconsidering that protocol.

According to the NPR report, Navy ships will be changing the way they employ the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which commercial vessels use as a tool to help avoid crashes.

Retired Vice Adm. William Douglas Crowder, former commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet and former deputy chief of naval operations, told NPR that Navy ships typically use AIS in receive-only mode, which allows them to see other vessels but doesn't let other ships see them.

"AIS is certainly not the only means to avoid collisions at sea, but it's an important tool," author and former commercial ship captain John Konrad was quoted as saying. "It's important for situational awareness."

Recent accidents involving Navy ships in the Pacific have killed 17 sailors. An Aug. 21 collision east of Singapore, involving the USS John S. McCain and a merchant ship, killed 10 sailors. On June 17, seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel off the coast of Japan.

NPR reported that it still isn't clear whether the Fitzgerald was transmitting AIS at the time of the June collision, but it is known that the McCain was not, the report said.

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