Personal Experience> USS Flint AE-32
 
 

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 Personal Experiences

USS Flint AE-32

 

Craig Connolly
Service Dates=Sept '85 to Aug '93

When I was a LT, serving as Communications Officer onboard the Ammunition Ship, USS Flint (AE-32), I witnessed the near collision of the cruiser, USS Josephus Daniels, with a Panmanian Tanker. This was the beginning of my second WestPac deployment on Flint and I had recently recieved my SWO qualification at the same time that I was frocked to LT. I had only been a LTjg for a few months. At the time of this incident, I was standing watch as CICWO. Our ship had been detached from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Battlegroup and sent to refuel and reprovision the USS Josephus Daniels, a guided missile cruiser that was steaming independently on AAW picket station. The cruiser's approach and refueling went without incident. During the UNREP, we detected a distant surface contact on our SPS-10 radar. The bridge and CIC concurred that the contact was on a recripricol course and would pass a few hundred yards off Josephus Daniel's starboard side, opposite of our ship. When the contact was within visual range (approx 9 nm), the bridge reported that it appeared to be a large civilian tanker with a white superstructure. The track still indicated that it would safely pass down the opposite side of the cruiser. Via the UNREP station soundpowered phones, our Captain discussed the contact with Josephus Daniel's CO and they concurred; to maintain UNREP course and speed. The OOD repeatedly attempted to contact the tanker via Channel 16 BTB, but that was unsuccesful. When the contact was within 2000 yards off the starboard bow, I went out on the bridge to look at the contact, check its track on the LN-66 radar, and see that the Captain and OOD were comfortable with the close CPA. I saw that it was a large civilian tanker flying the Panamanian flag. With the tanker closing, We heard a frantic voice from the Cruiser over Channel 16; "We have suffered a steering casualty, our rudder is jammed, Right Full." Our Captain and OOD ordered Emergency BreakAway and we sounded 5 short blasts from our ship's whistle. The conning officer attempted to match the course and speed of the cruiser, but that was impossible due to the vastly different maneuvering characteristics of an AE and a CG. The move would also put us in extremis with the tanker. After the load was quickly retrieved and all personel took cover, Flint's Boatwain used the emergency line-cutter to part the remaining steel highline and we were free to maneuver away from the tanker. The tanker passed close aboard between our ships and barely missed colliding with Josephus Daniels. I was standing on the Bridge and saw the highline part and impact our #5 kingpost with a great BANG, scattering metal debris and paint chips in all directions. Fortunately, no one was injured. It was a miracle that the Boatswain was not killed or maimed. While the Panamanian flagged ship was passing our starboard side, I noticed one the tanker's crewman leave the pilothouse and run aft to dip their ensign and render honors to the U.S. Warships and continue on their way as if nothing had happened. The civilian crew were obviously ignorant of how close they had come to killing hundreds of American sailors and possibly sinking the cruiser and/or us. I wondered wether that class of cruiser was jinxed. Years earlier,the Belknap (her sister ship) had been virtually destroyed in a collision and had to be rebuilt.

 

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