Seven sailors on the USS Fitzgerald drowned when their vessel was struck and their sleeping quarters eventually submerged after a Philippines cargo ship on autopilot slammed into them.
The US investigation into last Friday’s deadly collision between a US Navy vessel and the 29,000-ton ACX Crystal found that no one was behind the wheel of the Philippines trading ship: an electronic guidance system led it to gouge the Fitzgerald, with fatal consequences.
“The ACX Crystal powered out of the deviation it performed at 1:30 a.m., which was likely the impact with the USS Fitzgerald, pushing it off course while trying to free itself from being hung on the bow below the waterline,” private naval analyst Steffan Watkins told the Washington Free Beacon in a report published Friday.
US military doctrine prohibits drones from acting on their own accord; every Hellfire and Paveway II missile is fired by a human operating the aircraft remotely. The idea is that machines shouldn’t be allowed to kill humans outright. Similar philosophical quandaries have emerged about assigning liability in the event that a self-driving car causes a crash that leads to loss of life.
Coast Guard officials from Japan and the US opened an investigation into the crash upon learning that it took almost an hour for sailors on the merchant ship to notify authorities of the naval emergency. It now appears the sailors aboard the Crystal simply didn’t know they had struck another ship.
After the accident, the ACX Crystal continued on its course and even picked up speed, before it eventually lowered velocity and turned back around. “This shows the autopilot was engaged, because nobody would power out of an accident with another ship and keep sailing back on course. It’s unthinkable,” Watkins said.
Alternatively, Washington Free Beacon writer Bill Gertz writes that the discovery leaves open the possibility that the Crystal’s software was hijacked by malignant actors. Nevertheless, “investigators so far found no evidence the collision was deliberate,” Gertz notes.