Urgent new orders went out earlier this month for United States Navy warships that have been plagued by deadly mishaps this year.
More sleep and no more 100-hour workweeks for sailors. Ships steaming in crowded waters like those near Singapore and Tokyo will now broadcast their positions as do other vessels. And ships whose crews lack basic seamanship certification will probably stay in port until the problems are fixed.
All seemingly obvious standards, military officials say, except that the Navy only now is rushing the remedies into effect after two collisions in two months left 17 sailors dead, despite repeated warnings about the looming problems from congressional watchdogs and the Navy’s own experts dating to 2010.
The orders issued recently by the Navy’s top officer for ships worldwide, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, drew on the lessons that commanders gleaned from a 24-hour fleet-wide suspension of operations last month to examine basic seamanship, teamwork and other fundamental safety and operational standards.
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Collectively, current and former officers said, the new rules mark several significant cultural shifts for the Navy’s tradition-bound fleets. At least for the moment, safety and maintenance are on par with operational security, and commanders are requiring sailors to use old-fashioned compasses, pencils and paper to help track potential hazards, as well as reducing a captain’s discretion to define what rules the watch team follows if the captain is not on the ship’s bridge.