SAN DIEGO – The Navy relieved the commanding officer of the USS Essex of his position, saying Tuesday that officials lost confidence in his abilities after his ship collided with a tanker at sea.
Capt. Chuck Litchfield had only been the commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship for a few weeks when the crash occurred about 120 miles off the coast of Southern California on May 16. There were no injuries or fuel spills.
The Essex was approaching the oiler USNS Yukon to be refueled as part of a routine operation when they ran into each other. Both ships were damaged but were able to continue on their way to San Diego.
Officials said at the time the steering apparently failed on the Essex, which was carrying 982 crew members on its way to San Diego for scheduled maintenance. It had spent the past 12 years based in Sasebo, Japan, as command ship for the Navy's Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
Officials could not be immediately reached for comment for details on why Litchfield was relieved of his command on Monday.
Capt. Jonathan Harnden has temporarily assumed command of the Essex until a permanent replacement is assigned. Harnden previously commanded the USS Bonhomme Richard, which Litchfield had taken command of Feb. 3 before switching over to the Essex April 23.
The Navy said Litchfield has been administratively reassigned to the staff of Commander, Naval Air Force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Officials said the Essex will be able to depart as scheduled to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise this month in Hawaii.