The U.S. Navy fired the USS John S. McCain's top two officers amid an ongoing investigation into the 7th fleet's deadly disasters at sea. (Jason Aldag,Dan Lamothe/The Washington Post)

The U.S. Navy said a Japanese tugboat “drifted into” a destroyer during a scheduled exercise Saturday, causing “minimal damage” to the warship and no reported injuries.

The USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, appears to have sustained scrapes on its side and remains at sea, according to the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is based in Japan. The tugboat lost propulsion before drifting into the warship, the Navy said in a statement.

The tugboat was towed to a port in Yokosuka, a city south of Tokyo, where the 7th Fleet has its headquarters. The Navy said the collision will be investigated.

This incident occurred amid heightened scrutiny of the 7th Fleet in the wake of numerous embarrassing accidents, including two fatal collisions involving guided-missile destroyers. In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship in Tokyo Bay, flooding the destroyer and killing seven sailors. Two months later, the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore, leaving 10 sailors dead.

These prior collisions prompted questions about the strains faced by the Navy, and the Navy’s leaders have acknowledged the grueling deployment pace and exhausting workweeks faced by sailors.

After the McCain collision, the Navy announced a fleet-wide investigation and fired several officers. In August, the Navy relieved the admiral in charge of the 7th Fleet due to a “loss of confidence,” and two senior officers who oversaw warships involved in accidents were fired weeks later for the same reason. Last month, the Navy fired the McCain’s top two officers due to what officials called poor judgment and leadership on their part.


The USS Benfold in 2016. (Borg Wong/AP)

The Navy said earlier this month that investigations had determined that the collisions involving the Fitzgerald and McCain “were preventable” and caused by “multiple failures” by service members.

“We are a Navy that learns from mistakes, and the Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said in a statement when the investigations into those collisions were released. “We must never allow an accident like this to take the lives of such magnificent young Sailors and inflict such painful grief on their families and the nation.”

Further reading:

The Navy has now fired at least six amid the fallout over deadly accidents

When Navy ships collide, there is virtually always human error involved