Navy replaces commander after ship hits moored bulker in Montreal


The U.S. Navy has replaced the commander of a new combat ship that struck a moored bulk carrier while getting underway in the St. Lawrence River in Montreal.

LCS 15, the future USS Billings, hit the 453-foot Rosaire A. Desgagnes at about 1400 on June 21 while departing berth 31 at the Port of Montreal. The starboard side of the naval ship struck the bulker aft on its port side.

No one on either ship was injured and no pollution was reported, although both vessels reported minor damage. Authorities have not disclosed the cause of the incident. The Navy is investigating, and Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) collected details on the case but has not publicly shared them.

Navy officials confirmed that Capt. Nate Rowan relieved Billings’ commanding officer, Cmdr. Michael Johnson, on June 28. The reason was loss of confidence in his ability to command.

“The relief follows the recent allision in Montreal, Canada, which occurred on June 21,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hillson said in an emailed statement. “Johnson assumed duties as the commanding officer of Billings’ Blue Crew in June 2018 and has been temporarily reassigned to the staff of Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two.”

Fincantieri Marinette Marine of Manitowoc, Wis., built the 378-foot Freedom-class warship, which left the shipyard June 8. It arrived in Montreal on June 18 after a stop in Cleveland. The ship was departing Montreal for its home port at Naval Station Mayport in Mayport, Fla., when it struck Rosaire A. Desgagnes.

Video taken by an onlooker and posted online shows LCS 15 slowly moving toward the bulker, which was moored at berth 30 at the port. Two tugboats are positioned alongside the Navy ship, apparently with lines on it. The two tugs can be seen backing away from the LCS as it makes contact with the bulker. Hillson would not discuss what role, if any, the tugs played in the incident.

Philippe Filion, a spokesman for Quebec-based tug operator Ocean Group, also would not share details about the incident, citing client privacy. He said the tugs Ocean Jupiter and Ocean Serge Genois assisted the Navy ship after the allision. It is not known if they are the same tugs that were assisting when the incident occurred.

Hillson said LCS 15 had an “experienced” pilot on board when it struck Rosaire A. Desgagnes. The Laurentian Pilotage Authority, whose personnel work that section of the St. Lawrence River, did not respond to an inquiry about whether one of its pilots was on the ship.

LCS 15 sustained damage to its starboard bridge wing and other areas above the waterline. It underwent repairs in Montreal before departing on July 1 for Mayport, Fla. Damage to the Canada-flagged Rosaire A. Desgagnes also was considered minor.

“Essentially paint and damage to fenders with no impact to our operations,” said Benoit Chasse, vice president of human resources and communications for ship operator Groupe Desgagnes.

Rowan is commander of USS Wichita’s (LCS 13) Blue Crew and a previous commander of Billings. His appointment is considered temporary.

By Professional Mariner Staff