Tugboats guide the damaged USS Fitzgerald through waters near the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan. The destroyer collided on June 17, 2017 with the Philippine-registered container ship. The guided-missile destroyer was built at Bath Iron Works and commissioned in 1995. Associated Press/ Eugene Hoshiko

BATH — Two years after a fatal collision off the coast of Japan damaged Bath-built USS William Fitzgerald (DDG 62), the ship is undergoing tests at sea after extensive repairs by Bath Iron Works’ main competitor.

The USS Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer christened in Bath in January 1994, departed Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls Industries Monday to conduct a series of demonstrations to determine whether the ship’s onboard systems meet or exceed Navy performance standards, according to a statement from NAVSEA, a department of the Navy. Among the systems that will be tested are navigation, damage control, mechanical and electrical systems, combat systems, communications and propulsion.

The ship needed costly repairs after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on June 17, 2017, off the southeast coast of Japan. Seven U.S. sailors were killed in the collision. The destroyer suffered severe damage to its forward starboard side and a large puncture below the ship’s waterline, which rapidly flooded a machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members.

“Since we launched the ship this past April our efforts have focused on restoring ship systems, conducting pier side tests and readying the ship for sea,” Rear Admiral Tom Anderson, NAVSEA director of surface ship maintenance and modernization and commander, Navy regional maintenance center said in a statement. “The government industry team has been working hand-in-hand on this exceptionally complex effort, with a common purpose of returning Fitzgerald to sea and ultimately back to the fleet.”

In a 2017 statement after the collision, the Navy said Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding, BIW’s competitor, was chosen to repair the Fitzgerald based on availability and workload at the two shipyards.

The Mississippi shipyard was awarded $523 million to repair and modernize the Fitzgerald, according to NAVSEA.

“We are excited to take the next step to get Fitzgerald back out to sea where the ship belongs,” Commander Scott Wilbur, the USS Fitzgerald’s commanding officer said. “My crew is looking forward to moving onboard the ship and continuing our training to ensure we are ready to return to the fleet.”

Considered the workhorse of the Navy, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are built only at BIW and Ingalls. They measure more than 500 feet in length, carry a crew of roughly 300 sailors and cost $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion to build. The most recent destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened in June 2019 making it the 37th ship of its class to be built by the shipyard.

The Fitzgerald was built at BIW in the early 1990s and commissioned in 1995. The destroyer is named in honor of Lieutenant William C. Fitzgerald, who was mortally wounded in Vietnam on Aug. 7, 1967, when he ordered his fellow soldiers to retreat during battle and covered their escape. He was posthumously awarded the U. S. Navy’s highest decoration for valor, the Navy Cross, for his heroism.

One month after the Fitzgerald’s fatal accident, the BIW-built USS John McCain collided with an oil tanker in Singapore, which left a gash in the warship’s hull and caused flooding in sections of the ship.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer underwent extensive repairs and upgrades following a collision with a commercial oil tanker in Singapore in August 2017. Ten sailors died in the collision, which ultimately contributed to the firing two years ago of Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet.

Due to the extent of the damage and the location of the ship, the Navy transported the vessel to the U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility-Japan Regional Maintenance Center in Yokosuka.

According to an internal communication from BIW from December of 2018, two dozen electricians from the shipyard spent several months in Yokosuka helping with the repair efforts following a special request from Rear Adm. James Downey. That work was completed in October of 2018 and the destroyer began at-sea testing in October 2019.

 

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