According to an analysis by Security Ledger, these collisions may be the result of a sophisticated cyber attack and not sailor error.
The means and ability for such an attack exist and have even been proven. In 2013, a University Of Texas researcher successfully sent misleading GPS data to the crew of an $80 million dollar yacht that mislead the crew about the yachts position as well as movement.
The Security Ledger writes, “’Again: the incidents so far have been chalked up to sailor error. That’s the most likely explanation and that may be the case here again with the McCain. However, it is certainly possible to imagine a scenario in which sailors “err” by believing what their navigation tools like GPS and AIS are telling them on the bridge about where they are in three dimensional space and what is around them. In the case of the proof of concept GPS attack, the UT researchers were able to steer the ship in a circle while the GPS told those on the bridge that the vessel was travelling in a straight line. The sailors bodies and the wake of the ship directly contradicted that data, proving the point, but more subtle manipulations of a ship’s course could likely go unnoticed until it was too late. And that might explain the strange lack of “situational awareness” that was blamed for the Fitzgerald crash.’”