MONROE COUNTY, Fl. – A U.S. naval destroyer tasked with providing aid to hurricane-ravaged Florida has run aground on a small island north of Key West after the ship’s crew mistook the quarter-mile wide land mass for a fishing vessel, a spokesperson for the Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday.
The mishap occurred at approximately 11 a.m. local time after crew members aboard the USS Chris Christie, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, made several attempts to contact the island in an effort to get it to change course. “When the suspected vessel failed to respond, the USS Chris Christie took appropriate action and fired multiple warning shots over its bow,” Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral Fielding Patterson told reporters during a briefing in Washington.
Known as Fleming Key, the two-mile long island is situated just off the northwest corner of Key West and is home to several marine research facilities, a ten million-gallon per day wastewater treatment plant, and the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Underwater Operations Training Center, making it off limits to those without official clearance. Due to Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys early Sunday morning, authorities said much of the island was deserted at the time of the incident.
A Navy official with firsthand knowledge of the collision said the USS Chris Christie was traveling at a top speed of 30 knots, or 35 mph, when it struck the northern tip of Fleming Key, carving “a nearly straight” river approximately two hundred yards inland before coming to a halt. While no injuries were immediately reported, the 9,000-ton battleship is said to have sustained extensive damage to its hull after it obliterated a concrete structure belonging to the U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Operations Training Center.
With the investigation into Tuesday’s collision still in its early stages, officials say it may be months before the cause is fully known. However, according to Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral Fielding Patterson, preliminary findings suggest “faulty navigation equipment” might be to blame. The incident marks the third time this year that a U.S. naval destroyer has been involved in a collision.