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Essex CO fired, command issues cited

Amphib damaged after collision with oiler Yukon in May

Jun. 19, 2012 - 12:44PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 19, 2012 - 12:44PM  |  
Capt. Chuck Litchfield has been fired as commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship Essex.
Capt. Chuck Litchfield has been fired as commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship Essex. (Navy)
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Capt. Jonathan Harnden has been temporarily named commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship Essex. (Navy)

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SAN DIEGO — The commander of the big-deck amphibious assault ship Essex was fired Monday due to a "loss of confidence in his ability to command," a Navy spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Capt. Chuck Litchfield was commanding the Essex on May 16 when http://www.navytimes.com/news/2012/05/navy-essex-collides-with-oiler-051612/">it collided with the replenishment oiler Yukon a day before both ships returned to San Diego.

Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, who heads Expeditionary Strike Group 3, relieved Litchfield of command "based on findings of the investigation" into the collision, said Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Naval Surface Forces spokeswoman in Coronado, Calif.

"There were a number of factors that contributed to the collision with Yukon," Reese said. "Part of it began with the loss of rudder control. There was a breakdown in command and control, in bridge resource management and in communication between the two ships. … All those factors contributed to the collision."

The problems "essentially began with the partial loss of rudder control," she said.

The investigation into the collision is not finalized, Reese said.

Essex was approaching the Yukon off the Southern California coast to begin an underway replenishment when the big-deck gator ship collided with the oiler. On the Essex, collision damage included parts of the starboard elevator, lifeboats and catwalks. Damage on the Yukon included the flight deck and davits. Both ships required emergency repairs after arriving in San Diego.

Litchfield took command of the Essex in April. He has been temporarily reassigned to the the Naval Air Force Pacific staff in Coronado, Reese said.

Litchfield was previously the CO of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which swapped hulls with the Essex on April 23 in Sasebo, Japan.

The Navy planned the swap in order to bring Essex to San Diego, where it will get an indepth overhaul and repairs.

Hueber temporarily assigned Capt. Jonathan Harnden to command Essex. Harnden had been serving as ESG-3's chief of staff for just a few months. Harnden previously commanded Bonhomme Richard and Litchfield had been his executive officer.

Essex is expected to leave San Diego on Wednesday for Hawaii, where it will participate in the upcoming Rim of the Pacific exercises slated to begin later this month.

"Some permanent repairs have been made" to the Essex, Reese said. The ship also is scheduled for a short maintenance availability after returning from RIMPAC later this summer and is scheduled for a yearlong shipyard drydock and maintenance period starting this winter.

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