Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

From Someone Who's Been There...

A reader who is fairly familiar with the unclassified portions of the San Francisco grounding and investigation sent in some clarifications to reports that have been going around the 'Net and mainstream media (mostly Bob Hamilton, since he's the MSM guy that submariners read most). Here's what the reader has to say; what he writes "passes the smell test" from my end, but you are obviously free to make your own decision:

Fact:
Chart E2202 was corrected and up to date by the ship - the report does not state otherwise. In fact, of all the charts reviewed by the investigation team (and they reviewed A LOT), none were missing ANY corrections (in a TRE, that would make you AA in this particular regard)

Opinion:
Read the report comments carefully (it's written a bit inexactly) - where the ship screwed up was in believing the E2202 chart was an accurate chart because it was based on extensive surveys. My opinion: every U.S. submarine would have been using E2202 (a nice bottom contour chart) for this transit submerged. How many submarines would have found the discolored water spot on 81023 and transferred it to E2202? We'll never know. However, open ocean navigation common practice for most ships had been to compare charts and then select the best chart, just like the SAN FRAN did (I'm not condoning this, but this is my belief based on talking with many people). Stated in another way for redundancy...The bottom contour charts (like E2202) were widely thought to be superior to the general nautical charts (like 81023). And oh, by the way, the SUBNOTE writer used E2202 as well, thank you very much. We all saw the pictures of SAN FRAN in drydock and we all signed Joey Ashley's guest book - we know NOW the bottom contour charts suck. And oh, why wasn't the discoloured water on the E2202 chart to begin with? Truthful answer: no good reason; a clear error on the part of NGA, who made the chart and lacks the fortitude and decency to admit this critical error. God bless the boys on SAN FRAN, who at least had the integrity to admit their faults, take their licks, and support each other.


Fact:
There was one, repeat, ONE sounding that did not check with chart prior to the grounding - it was 22% off and in about 6000 feet of water, and it was about 5 hours prior to the grounding. An alarm bell? Maybe, or were the investigators reaching? Certainly some good lessons to be learned, but a screeching red/yellow (or even minumum expected) sounding it most certainly was not! And oh by the way, the soundings for the 4 hours up to the grounding tracked just about precisely with the chart.

Opinion:
You'd be hard pressed to find a QM (even one of those 20 year born and bred types) to raise big alarms over these indications. But hey, maybe I'm wrong - that's why it's an OPINION!

General Comments:
Does this investigation report highlight legitimate errors by the ship? You betcha - they should have been more careful in navigating and more thorough in their preparations. The report wastes no ink in dumping on the crew, and even stretches the boundaries of reason and fairness in doing so. And as we all know, they were punished. I'm sorry, but I read the report and I see their mistakes but I don't see gross dereliction of duty. How about the other organizations? With the exception of some minor comments, they get a pass even though they put all the pieces in place to make the grounding happen! They gave the ship the doomed track (BTW, a first time track, never used before - deviated significantly from numerous past "good" tracks - yes, several boats had done this milk run before) and then gave them a chart that made it look safe. A great ship would have recognized the ambush and steered clear - but how many ships really could have avoided this debacle? We'll never know.

Anyone with other opinions can feel free to so state in the comments. But as for me, the facts stated above are the best data I have, and I'll treat them as unquestioned until shown otherwise.

11 Comments:

Anonymous steve ewing said...

Well, there ya go. That pretty much answers my comments/questions.

In the North Atlantic, the area I am familiar with, the BC charts are the most accurate there are-- boomer patrol areas, open ocean, and not too much of it (relatively speaking). I am aware that vast stretches of the Pacific are still relying on Captain Cook (maybe a little hyperbole there) and where there were overlapping charts, I may have checked them out-- but I can't say: it never came up before. The closest in my background would be the one quick trip I did into the Med-- and we used local charts there.

I'm sticking to my original impression of "Act of God", and good on the crew to have survived it.

As for the VMS, I am clueless-- after my time; and if anyone wants to write up an article on it and submit it to me for my website, I'd be appreciative-- www.qmss.com.

4/24/2005 7:26 AM

 
Blogger Vigilis said...

Anonymous, thank you for bringing your facts and thoughtful opinions to help clarify the 711's recent tragedy. Allow me to point out the obvious, however, from your:

Facts
"Chart E2202 was corrected and up to date by the ship - the report does not state otherwise."
and "There was one, repeat, ONE sounding that did not check with chart prior to the grounding.." (NONCONFORMANCE, however slight, was sufficient for any crew's notice and cautionary reevaluation of sounding intervals and deviation red/yellow criteria).

Opinion:
"a clear error on the part of NGA, who made the chart and lacks the fortitude and decency to admit this critical error."(NGA MAKES CHARTS WITH DISCLAIMERS CONCERNING CHANGING CONDITIONS THAT CAN STILL BE ENCOUNTERED, I believe).

General Comments:
"They gave the ship the doomed track (BTW, a first time track, never used before - deviated significantly from numerous past "good" tracks" (SUBS ARE STEALTH PLATFORMS, use of repetitive tracks disadvantages the premises of unpredictability and continued congressional funding- Sen. McCain, for one, already opposes funding them).

Question:
"Will anyone other than a SAN FRAN crewmember EVER accept any responsibility for this tragedy?"
(I have answered this before, that would be totally INCONSISTENT with British and US naval history because it does not lead to improved performance of the COs or fleets. Had this been the Staten Island Ferry, however, you could expect its Maritime Director to resign - he did).

Finally, I agree with you "Does this investigation report highlight legitimate errors by the ship? You betcha - they should have been more careful..." and Steve Ewing's "Act of God", because the sounding deviation was evidentally minimal in too many crew's experience. That is no longer the case, and will be Joey Ashley's lasting legacy to submariners.

4/24/2005 11:14 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to belabor the point, but...

1. The discolored water spot was known to NGA before they published E2202. It was not a "changing condition." The best info known to the chart preparers at the time of publication was not on the chart - period. Think about this: if the discolored water spot been on chart E2202, the grounding probably would not have occured - the SUBNOTE writer would have steered the ship clear to begin with; and if he missed it, the ship most likely would have seen it and operated differently. The "disclaimer" talk is not relevant in this aspect of the discussion.

2. Previous ships that transitted the Carolines had almost identical tracks. SAN FRAN's differed significantly. I understand the "unpredictability" point in principle, but certainly where safe navigation is concerned, there are optimal paths between point A and point B. A high speed transit for a liberty port through the Carolines does not seem to qualify as a venture requiring excessive stealth. Reasonable men may differ on this point. However, in the hierarchy of operational priorities, all submariners are trained that safety trumps stealth. Think about this: if SAN FRAN had been given the same track as the previous boats, then the accident would not have occurred.

3. When discussing acceptance of responsibility by people outside of the ship, one does not have to reach too far back into history to find an example of where it occured...USS COLE. The COLE Investigation Report recommended a Court Martial for the CO - he had specific warnings of small boat threats and took insufficient precautions to protect his ship from attack e.g. his security personnel didn't even have ammo loaded. In the end, the Secretary of Defense himself (Cohen, on his last day in office just prior to W's inauguration- what a brave man), with the CNO's full concurrence, accepted "group responsibility" for the tragedy. The CO survived, got promoted, and is still on active duty. Now the COLE certainly is different from SAN FRAN - the COLE was attacked by an outside force. But there are many similarities, and Navy Regulations on command responsibility and accountability do not contain exceptions for combat. So what's the point? Well, if mistakes are made (by anyone) and improvements deemed appropriate, then the public deserves full disclosure and those in charge should be held accountable. Accountability may not mean punitive action - the punishment must fit the crime. But in a democracy, we demand public accountability because we believe in fairness. I see no reduction in ship level accountability if someone outside of the ship accepts responsibility for their part in the grounding. In fact, this increase in overall accountability would help prevent something like this from ever happening again. After all, operating submarines is a team effort and we should always look for ways to improve the safety margin - on or off the ship.

4/24/2005 12:33 PM

 
Blogger Vigilis said...

Anonymous, again in your own words:

"The discolored water spot was known to NGA before they published E2202. It was not a 'changing condition.'"
>>If you are certain it was NOT a changing condition, how about sharing what it was that causes the "discolored water"?

"The 'disclaimer' talk is not relevant in this aspect of the discussion....if the discolored water spot been on chart E2202, the grounding probably would not have occured."
>>If NGA had known what it was,
(do they?) they could have and should have identified it on a chart.

"...all submariners are trained that safety trumps stealth."
>>I was on watch when a submarine event involving an uncontrollable depth problem occurred on an SSN. The reason we survived was that one of our section recognized the possible problem the former watch had not, alerted the CO and we went to GQ immediately.
The 711's crew and CO were also outstanding in at least 95% of their pre-allision safety duties and perhaps 99.99% afterward. I see a training need that underscores safety, too, but I also see slackness that is inconsistent with our submarine service, sorry.

.. "the COLE certainly is different from SAN FRAN"
>>That is an exception, alright. Now give me one (1) example of an allision where the CO and crew were
not held accountable under UK or US traditions. For that matter, name a single submarine that never suffered one. Besides the Cole's CO, young Chester Nimitz went on to promotions, too. (Submarines at the time of Nimitz's event were not even considered as "sea duty" you see).

..."in a democracy, we demand public accountability because we believe in fairness."
>>Precautionary requirements were spelled out, the crew was trained and apparently got too slack in a normally noncritical area. The sea is unforgiving.

..."increase in overall accountability would help prevent something like this from ever happening again."
>>I agree, it would be sufficient, but it is not necessary. As you say, reasonable men may differ.

Thank you for serving our country in the military for the last 12 tears.

4/24/2005 2:12 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, SAN FRAN's faults are acknowledged and accepted. They've been punished, shown no mercy and made an example for all. You can read all about their screwups in Hamilton's article. Now, to fill in some historical blanks for you...

1. Discolored Water is a report that was and is in the NGA database. It is a documented navigation hazard. It doesn't "go away"

2. There are many examples of submarine collisions and groundings where the CO was not relieved. Here are a few:

Collisions: SAN JUAN, LA JOLLA
Groundings: AUGUSTA, HONOLULU

Anyhow, that was the never the point. I'm just trying to help you with your facts, which occasionally neeed correcting.

Let's call a truce. I promise not to post anymore, unless you post a inaccurate or incorrect fact. I respect your opinions, and I think we agree on most things anyway.

4/24/2005 2:45 PM

 
Blogger Vigilis said...

Thanks for the facts, Anonymous, and the helpful attitude. Pardon me for insisting, but since I cannot e-mail you privately for the information, please share what
has been discoloring the surface water, given the considerable depths of seawater surrounding the San Fran's allision site.

You have made your point well with many examples of collisions and groundings, although neither is quite the same as this allision.

We seem overdue for some serious safety improvements taxpayers must now expect. My how the Navy has changed. Obviously, it has allowed too many LAWYERS in its ranks!

4/24/2005 3:29 PM

 
Anonymous rebootinit said...

How about this. If you go to maps.google.com and find guam, then look southeast. It was about 350 miles southeast. Pull up the sattelite images google has. You will see what the San Fran hit. It's the ridge that is east of the triangular looking mountain, and it is huge.

4/25/2005 12:39 AM

 
Blogger Vigilis said...

rebootinit, thanks but I already had good info. Anonymous has a political agenda and I was drawing him out. This suggests Anonymous's real agenda:

Per Anonymous (his original post):
"And oh, why wasn't the discoloured water on the E2202 chart to begin with? Truthful answer: no good reason; a clear error on the part of NGA, who made the chart and lacks the fortitude and decency to admit this critical error."

Answer-Reported Jan 15, 2005, NYT:
since the accident, Mr. Andreasen, the chief hydrographer for the Office of Global Navigation at the NGA said, his office has examined commercially available images taken by a Landsat satellite in 1999, and at least one image indicates that an undersea mountain could rise to within 100 feet of the surface there. Analysts say variations in water color can sometimes indicate a land mass below. [VIGILIS says: That's a pretty honest admission, isn't it, and almost 3 months ago. Anonymous expert did not know about it? Give me a break.]

also in answer to Anonymous from the NYT on that same date:
"Why wasn't the discolored water on the chart to begin with?"

answer: Dr. David T. Sandwell, a geophysics professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said that about 40 percent of the oceans were "very, very poorly charted, and those areas are mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. Dr. Sandwell said readings by one such satellite in the mid-1980's also indicated there could be an undersea mountain at the San Francisco's crash site. But he said the margin of error was too large for the studies to be conclusive. And Mr. Andreasen said much of the satellite data was too vague for precise charting. Current and former Navy officials say the main focus during the cold war was charting areas in the Northern Pacific and in Arctic seas where missile and surveillance submarines guarded against a Soviet attack. Since then, the Navy has been trying to improve charts of shallower coastal waters in the Middle East and other areas where it might have to help battle TERRORISTS.
[VIGILIS says: That's right, Terrorists. Anonymous may not be one, he might not even be British, but he is not trying to help the fight against terrorists as much as he is trying to demoralize our submariners.]

[VIGILIS says] Look how Anonymous is spelling "discoloured" water. As an investigator, I would not be surprised if he is actually a British Muslim! Now, what do you think his agenda might be?

4/25/2005 2:00 PM

 
Blogger Bubblehead said...

Vigilis... easy, man. I can assure you that Anonymous is most decidedly not a British Muslim.

4/25/2005 2:35 PM

 
Anonymous Scott said...

This has gotten off track with this rediculous discussion of ethnicity and religion. Focus on the facts Vigilis. NGA did have the information on the discolored water. What does it mean? That might not be well defined, so I will quote Bowditch (from the section on Hydrography and reports)
"In some cases, reports of discolored water at the sea surface have been investigated and found to be the result of newly formed volcanic cones on the sea floor."--Get qualified Vigilis.
And BTW, your information on the soundings is incomplete. At least one sounding was taken very shortly before the allision. Close enough in time to be of interest.

Incidentally, other COs who have transited the area refer to this part of the ocean with great concern evident in their voices. There is scarcely a spot in the Caroline transit without an island or pinnacle w/in 10 miles of your track.

4/25/2005 3:24 PM

 
Blogger Chap said...

I've got separate comments over at my place, but to me the most worrisome issues were how they used the fathometer (or didn't) at high speed, and how each member of the team had a bad feeling about the track but didn't act on it. I mean, you can safely navigate on a plotting sheet if necessary...

4/26/2005 12:04 AM

 

Post a Comment

<< Home