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Captain lost track of ship that hit Arizona Memorial dock

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  • The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor was closed to visitors May 27 after a tug boat collided with the memorial’s dock, making it unsafe for people to land there. (Star-Advertiser file)

A hospital ship struck the dock of the USS Arizona Memorial in May after the pilot and ship’s captain lost track of where the ship was going as it was leaving Pearl Harbor, an investigation into the incident released Wednesday said.

The harbor pilot on board the USNS Mercy had poor control over tugboats guiding the ship, said a report by the U.S. Military Sealift Command. This resulted in the ship unexpectedly heading toward the Arizona. It also led the pilot and the ship’s captain to lose track of where the ship was going for three minutes, leading the ship to hit the dock, the report said.

Waves generated by the propeller in the back of Mercy pushed the floating dock about 12 feet toward the memorial, the report said. This damaged the dock. The Mercy had 6 inch-long scrape marks, but no structural damage.

The Navy and the National Park Service closed the national landmark for over a week after the May 27 incident while crews repaired the dock.

The report said the chief mate’s lack of experience contributed to the incident, as did the navigator’s lack of experience and effectiveness.

The report made clear having the pilot on board to guide the ship didn’t absolve the captain, Capt. Thomas Giudice, of responsibility.

“The master’s responsibility for his ship is absolute. The master is responsible for the safe navigation of the ship,” the report said. Pilots are technical advisers or assistants, it said.

A Military Sealift Command spokesman didn’t immediately respond to email and telephone messages asking whether any disciplinary measures were taken as a result of the incident.

The report, which was dated July 10 and approved by Rear Adm. Thomas K. Shannon on Sept. 3, recommended that the command’s leaders take “administrative or correction action” toward the captain, chief mate and navigator “as it deems appropriate.”

The pilot and the tug boat operators were employees of P&R Water Taxi Ltd., which the Navy contracts to guide vessels in Pearl Harbor. A telephone message left for the company’s owner wasn’t immediately returned.

The memorial honors the 1,177 sailors and Marines on the Arizona who died when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Most of those killed are still entombed on the battleship, which lies in the harbor.

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