Report finds reason for accidents aboard Naval ships

Gary Robbins
The San Diego Union-Tribune

The Navy has failed to erase the sleep deprivation problems that have been contributing to deadly and expensive accidents aboard American warships, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The study, which includes concerns about the dozens Pacific fleet ships operating out of San Diego, said surface forces average only 5.25 hours of sleep per day. They’re supposed to get 7.5 hours. The figures were obtained from the Navy.

The GAO noted that it reported two years ago that the Navy wasn’t assigning enough crew members to some ships, causing some sailors to work longer hours. That problem was found still to exist this year.

“Personnel shortfalls will likely continue to be a leading factor causing inadequate sleep and sailor fatigue,” said the GAO, which also praised the Navy for taking the problem seriously.

Two Navy destroyers were involved in separate accidents with commercial vessels in 2017, resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors. The incidents were highlighted in the GAO report.

The auditors made references to the Navy’s Pacific fleet, which is dominated by San Diego — home to more than 50 surface warships, including three aircraft carriers. But there was no specific mention of local vessels.

“The readiness and wellness of our sailors remain our top priority and we are actively addressing challenges with sailor fatigue through a variety of measures ranging from force manning to technological applications that help manage crew rest and optimize human performance,” said Commander Arlo Abrahamson, the San Diego-based spokesperson for Naval Surface Force, Pacific Fleet.

“As of October 2023, the surface force has on average 322 sailors per surface ship. The average number of sailors per surface ship in 2017 was 308. To place that in context, the Surface Force added an average of 14 more Sailors per surface ship since the summer of 2017.”

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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