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Navy Censures Five Officers in Command During AAV Sinking That Killed Nine


Remains of victim are placed into a hearse
The remains of one of the accident victims are placed into a hearse from the trip to Miramar and the flight to Dover. Courtesy San Diego Police

The Navy issued five letters of censure to three U.S. Marine Corps officers and two Navy officers who were in leadership roles at the time of an ocean-training accident that killed nine service members in 2020, it was announced Monday.

The letters issued by Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro faulted the officers for “inadequate leadership and execution of their oversight duties” during the July 30, 2020, sinking of an amphibious-assault vehicle near San Clemente Island. Eight Marines and one Navy sailor, ranging in age from 18 to 22, died inside the vehicle, which sank about 80 miles west of Encinitas and went down in water nearly 400 feet deep.

“When leaders’ actions or inactions result in the loss of life or capital resources, the senior leadership of the Department of the Navy has a responsibility to determine the root cause and hold those accountable,” Del Toro said.

Letters of censure were sent to:

  • Retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, Marine Corps – Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force
  • Col. Christopher Bronzi, Marine Corps – Commanding Officer of 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
  • Capt. Stewart Bateshansky, Navy – Commander, Amphibious Task Force
  • Capt. John Kurtz, Navy – Commanding Officer of USS Somerset
  • Lt. Col. Keith Brenize, Marine Corps – Commanding Officer of 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion

A report issued following a Marine Corps investigation into the accident alleged poor maintenance of the AAVs and human errors regarding training played large roles in the accident.

The manufacturer of the AAV was also sued by the families of the deceased service members for alleged defects in the vessel’s design, which left the men trapped inside. The same attorneys alleged there was also negligence and human errors on the part of military members, but the families are barred from suing the military due to what’s called the Feres doctrine, which prevents service members and their families from filing suit against the federal government for wrongful deaths or injuries sustained while serving.

City News Service contributed to this article.



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