The Navy yesterday relieved the skipper and four other officers of the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, which collided with the Ecuadoran tanker Napo off Cuba last month.
Vice Adm. Robert F. Dunn, commander of the Atlantic fleet's air force, took the action, the Navy said, "due to his loss of confidence in their abilities to perform their duties."
Although the Navy is still investigating the night collision April 11 about 45 miles off Cuba, the relief of the officers in such a manner seriously blights their careers.
Capt. Robert E. (Gene) Tucker, skipper of the Coral Sea at the time of the collision, was a popular officer with a promising future, officials said.
On the night of the collision, he was on the bridge during flight operations but went to his cabin to shower after the first phase was completed, leaving subordinates in charge, officials said.
When the subordinates saw the approaching tanker's lights and realized that the carrier was on a collision course, they failed to follow standard practice and call the captain to the bridge, Navy sources said. The officer of the deck apparently became confused by the lights and turned the wrong way, the sources said.
The collision occurred while Tucker was in the shower, but the Navy holds the skipper responsible for what happens on his ship, no matter where he is at the time of an accident.
The 574-foot, 32,000-ton Napo bumped and scraped along the right side of the Coral Sea, inflicting about $11 million worth of damage. The 979-foot, 65,000-ton carrier sailed home for repairs at the Navy shipyard at Portsmouth.
The Coral Sea had undergone a $200 million overhaul a few weeks before the collision and is undergoing repairs.
Relieved with Tucker were Cmdr. Ralph Fink III, the navigator; Lt. Cmdr. Michael Raspet, officer of the deck at the time of the collision; Lt. (jg) Tommy Barr, surface watch officer, and Lt. (jg) Dean Monroe, junior officer of the watch.
In addition, the Navy took unspecified administrative actions against the five officers and two others who were not identified.
Navy officials said Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. is insisting that the same tough standard of accountability applied at sea be applied to Navy personnel on shore duty.
They said Lehman was trying to underscore this point in ordering transfers of three Navy officers at Miramar Naval Air Station in California Thursday for allowing payment of $659 apiece for ashtrays and $404 apiece for socket wrenches for a plane.