Former Destroyer XO Punished for Dereliction after Ship Collision

Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez (U.S. Navy Photo)
Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez (U.S. Navy Photo)

The former executive officer of the destroyer John S. McCain received non-judicial punishment including a punitive letter of reprimand Monday for dereliction of duty ahead of the August collision that left 10 sailors dead, the Navy announced Wednesday.

Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez was found guilty at an NJP hearing held in Washington, D.C., according to the announcement.

Sanchez and the McCain's commanding officer, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez, were both on the ship's bridge Aug. 21 as the destroyer exited the Strait of Malacca, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

An investigation made public in November showed that the commanding officer, Alfredo Sanchez, failed to summon a sea-and-anchor detail to assist the ship through the passage. When he saw the helmsman struggling to maintain throttle and steering, the commanding officer jumped in to remedy the situation, transferring steering control to another station.

Communication about the move failed, though, and in the confusion that resulted, an erroneous report went out that the ship had lost steering. Meanwhile, the McCain was making an uncontrolled turn to the left, setting it on a collision course with the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Alnic MC. Disaster was imminent.

While Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez was faulted for a number of actions in the command investigation, and now faces criminal charges including negligent homicide, the investigation showed the executive officer failed to restore order amid chaos on the bridge.

The punitive letter of reprimand, which becomes part of an officer's permanent service record, is generally seen as a career-ender.

Navy officials said two other NJP hearings were held Monday for an unidentified officer and enlisted sailor aboard the destroyer Fitzgerald, which also sustained a deadly collision last summer.

In both cases, the charges were dismissed, officials said, although they did not specify what the charges were or why they had been dismissed.

Because NJPs are administrative hearings, they are not open to the public and their outcomes are determined in relative secrecy.

In all, nine NJP proceedings have been completed for McCain and Fitzgerald sailors accused of negligence, dereliction, or other misconduct leading up to the collisions.

The former executive officer and command master chief of the Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt and Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin, were both given punitive letters of reprimand at NJP earlier this month for dereliction of duty.

The former commanding officer of the Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, and Sanchez, the McCain's former commander, will face charges of negligent homicide, dereliction of duty, and hazarding a vessel at Article 32 hearings set to take place next month.

Three additional junior officers from the Fitzgerald will also appear at Article 32 hearings in March.

The consolidated disposition authority for the McCain and Fitzgerald cases, Adm. Frank Caldwell, said in an announcement Wednesday that no additional NJPs are expected in the collision cases.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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