With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, looming last year, the U.S. Navy deployed two ships nearby in the Black Sea that could respond if catastrophe struck. Terrorism threats were percolating: Two recent bombings in the Russian city of Volgograd had occurred 400 miles away, and a Chechen militant leader had called for attacks on the Games.
One of the Navy’s ships was taken out of play five days after Opening Ceremonies, however. The USS Taylor, a guided-missile frigate capable of launching U.S. helicopters to Sochi, went aground in an embarrassing gaffe in the Turkish port of Samsun on Feb. 12, 2014.
The 7:25 a.m. incident caused more than $4.8 million in damage and required the ship to be towed to the Navy’s base in Souda Bay, Greece, for five weeks of repairs, according to the results of a Navy investigation released to The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act. It also left the ship unavailable when tensions in the region spiked later that month, after armed Russian-backed separatists took control of sections of Ukraine.
The grounding and subsequent firing of the Taylor’s top officer, Cmdr. Dennis Volpe, due to a “lack of confidence” was announced last year. But the documents released Friday provide new details about what went wrong and how the Taylor went aground.
The investigation found that the mishap occurred due to “a lack of procedural compliance, lack of forceful back-up, inadequate level of knowledge and poor execution of navigation duties.” After the grounding, Volpe also did not realize that his ship had run aground, reporting that the Taylor was centered in a narrow shipping channel, Navy officials said.
The investigating officer, whose name is redacted from the documents, wrote that in initial reports, officers on the Taylor wrote that they may have hit an uncharted submerged object inside waters deemed to be safe in the channel. The investigating officer determined that probably wasn’t the case, and zeroed in on how the navigation went wrong.
“At this point, the evidence started to indicate that the ship actually hit the sea floor, possibly outside charted safe waters,” the investigator wrote. “Thus, I began to reasonably suspect that members of the crew may have been derelict in their duties during the approach to the port.”
The ship has several different kinds of global positioning system units, but did not use one capable of providing the distances between the ship’s position and the safe track. After the ship’s stern ran aground, the Taylor proceeded to the pier in Samsun, arriving at 9:17 a.m. while experiencing a variety of related difficulties.
The ship was pulled off the seafloor with the help of two tugboats. At least three propeller blades were damaged, and the ship lost 23.6 gallons of hydraulic oil.
The investigation cited officers on the Taylor for a variety of poor navigation practices, including using GPS in a manner that affected their margin of error to make it through the channel and failing to provide a “danger range” to keep the ship on course. Volpe, his navigator and his assistant navigator faced administrative nonjudicial punishment hearings, and were “held accountable,” the investigation said. The punishments and the names of the two navigators cited were not disclosed.
Vice Adm. Philip S. Davidson, then the top commander for Navy forces in Europe and Africa, endorsed the investigation’s findings in June, calling the incident preventable. He said the investigation’s findings may be a valuable case study when training Navy navigation teams in the future.
This piece has been updated to correct that the identity of the investigating officer was redacted from the report.