It was almost as if regional differences were at play when a United States Navy nuclear-powered submarine named for a mild-mannered New England city collided with an amphibious transport dock named for notorious party town New Orleans – which resulted in injuries to more than a dozen sailors on the sub.
The incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula in March 2009, when both ships were traveling in the same direction and heading to port.
The two warships were on a regularly scheduled deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations conducting Maritime Security Operations when the accident occurred.
The USS Hartford, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine based in Groton, Conn., collided with the USS New Orleans (LPD-18), a San Diego-based San Antonio-class amphibious ship, at around 1 am on March 20, 2009, in the narrow, heavily traveled strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
USS Hartford sustained damage to its sail and periscope, as well as the port bow plane.
Each of the vessels was able to proceed under its own power after the incident, although the USS New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank, releasing 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the strait; while the nuclear-powered submarine was escorted back to homeport by the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58).
An inspection of USS New Orleans in Manama, Bahrain by U.S Navy divers found a 16 by 18 ft (4.9 by 5.5 m) hole in the ship’s hull, a ruptured fuel tank, and interior damage to two ballast tanks.
USS Hartford’s Command to Blame
Investigators determined that USS Hartford rolled approximately 85 degrees during the collision, yet they also confirmed the propulsion plant of the submarine was unaffected by this collision.
Following the more than six-month-long investigation, U.S. Navy officials placed blame on the submarine’s “ineffective and negligent command leadership,” including what they called a lack of standards and failure to adequately plan for crossing the busy Strait of Hormuz.
The report further found that the crew of the USS New Orleans bore no fault for the collision.
A repair contract for USS Hartford was subsequently awarded to General Dynamics. Repairs were initially expected to cost $37.4 million and be completed by January 2010, yet, by November 2009, those repair costs had already exceeded $100 million.
The final repair bill came in at around $120 million when SSN-768 returned to duty in February, 2011.
USS Hartford was launched in December 1993 and commissioned in December 1994. Six years before the collision, the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine had run aground near La Maddalena, Sardinia, with such force that the rudders, sonar, and other electronic equipment were severely damaged.
The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans, which was commissioned in March 2007, was repaired in Bahrain for $2.3 million and returned to duty.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism.