The commander of the USS Fort Worth, Michael L. Atwell, was relieved on Monday “due to loss of confidence in Atwell's ability to command,” the Navy said in a statement.
The USS Fort Worth, which was commissioned with much fanfare in September 2012 in Galveston, is a littoral combat ship based in San Diego that has been on a 16-month deployment based out of Singapore.
U.S Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Clint Ramsden told Stars and Stripes that in January, the crew damaged the ship’s combining gears because of insufficient oil.
The loss of confidence followed an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding an engineering casualty that occurred Jan. 12 in Singapore.
Navy statement on relieving the commander of the USS Fort Worth
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“The insufficient flow of lube oil resulted in high temperature alarms on the port and starboard combining gears,” Ramsden wrote to Stars and Stripes. “The casualty appears to have been caused by a failure to follow established procedures during maintenance.”
The incident led to an investigation that resulted in Atwell being removed by Rear Adm. Charles Williams.
“The loss of confidence followed an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding an engineering casualty that occurred Jan. 12 in Singapore,” the Navy said in a statement. “While the investigation is still under review by leadership, sufficient findings of facts emerged during the investigation to warrant the relief of the commanding officer. Atwell has been temporarily re-assigned to Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1 in San Diego.”
The Navy said Cmdr. Lex Walker, deputy commodore, Destroyer Squadron 7, “will assume temporary duties” until a replacement is named.
No decision has been made yet on the options for follow-on repairs to [USS] Fort Worth.
Navy statement on fixing the ship
The Navy hasn’t spelled out what will be needed to fix the USS Fort Worth.
“No decision has been made yet on the options for follow-on repairs to Fort Worth related to the Jan. 12 engineering casualty,” the Navy statement said. “As Fort Worth demonstrated through continuous operations in 2015, littoral combat ships provide an important capability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and planning continues for future LCS deployments.”
In a Feb. 5 letter, two top senators questioned whether the Navy should delay deployment of littoral ships and reduce their rhetoric until the vessels have completed more testing.
With only six of the planned 40 ships delivered but “practically no littoral combat ship mission capabilities proven” for mine clearance, surface warfare and submarine-hunting, “we urge you to reevaluate the deployment strategy,” wrote John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed, the panel’s top Democrat, according to Bloomberg News.
The USS Fort Worth was part of the Obama administration's promised “pivot to the Pacific.”
In the letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, McCain and Reed also said they were “concerned that Navy leaders are overstating the current state of the program and the challenging path to achieving the promised capability.”
Littoral ships can operate in shallow water and are designed for various missions, including surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine sweeping, with modules that can be switched out as needed.
In January 2015, the USS Fort Worth assisted in the search for victims from a downed AirAsia flight in the Java Sea.
The littoral combat ships work with two rotating crews of 40 apiece, plus 35 others for specific missions.
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.