In the wake of two major ship collisions that together cost the lives of 17 sailors, the Navy is calling on civilian companies within and outside the maritime domain to offer insights on how to rebuild after major disasters and safety crises.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said an independent readiness review he announced Sept. 1 would collect insights from, among others, BP North America, Crowley Marine, Maersk, Boeing, and Sandia National Laboratories.
A number of these companies have very publicly endured calamities, some of them deadly.
BP North America in 2010 saw the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest disaster of its kind in the history of the petroleum industry and a tragedy that killed 11 and injured 17 more.
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Maersk in 2009 had its cargo ship Alabama hijacked by Somali pirates in a high-profile incident, and has offered to assist the Navy with operational and personnel safety standards it has created, Spencer said.
Crowley, Spencer said, has made progress on turning around a damaging safety record with a “very admirable” program, Road to Zero.
“We’re going to [look at] this as best practices for people who have come out the other side,” Spencer told an audience near Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. “We really do expect this to be a learning experience as we’re set to go forward.”
Spencer’s independent review, which is being conducted alongside a separate safety review supervised by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran, comes after the Aug. 20 collision of the destroyer USS John S. McCain with a Liberian-flagged oil tanker east of the Straits of Malacca near Singapore, a disaster that killed 10 sailors and severely damaged the ship.
That collision came just months after the June 17 collision of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald with a Philippine-flagged container ship southwest of Tokyo, which caused the deaths of seven sailors.
Spencer did not identify the individual who would lead his independent safety review, but said it would be chaired by a “civilian in uniform” and would assess best practices from inside and outside the Navy community.
However, it’s not clear the Navy, which has roughly 100 of its 277 ships deployed around the world at any given time, is prepared to cut back on its high operational tempo, even though multiple experts have suggested that limited resources and a high tempo are stressing the fleet and creating additional risk for the service.
“We are living in the reality that we’re living in today, which is a resource-constrained environment,” Spencer told Military.com following his address.
“One of the reasons I talked about people, is, let’s go down to the people in the deck plates who are facing problems,” he said. “Can we do it in a more efficient manner? We’re going to have to work this equation from both ends.”