23 February 2019
US Navy personnel work on the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision in Singapore waters on Monday. Photo: Reuters
US Navy personnel work on the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision in Singapore waters on Monday. Photo: Reuters

US Navy to conduct safety checks after latest ship collision

The US Navy announced a fleet-wide probe and plans for temporary halts in operations to focus on safety, as it searched for 10 sailors missing after the fourth major accident in the US Pacific fleet this year, Reuters reports.

The guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided on Monday while the warship was nearing Singapore for a routine port call. The collision tore a hole in the warship’s waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area, the US Navy said.

“Initial reports indicate John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft,” it said in a statement. “There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured.”

US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said there were no indications so far the collision was intentional or the result of cyber intrusion or sabotage. “But review will consider all possibilities,” he said on Twitter.

Richardson told reporters said he was asking his fleet commanders worldwide for a one-to-two-day staggered “operational pause” to discuss action to ensure safe and effective operations. He envisaged this could begin within a week.

Richardson said a comprehensive review would examine the training of US forces deployed to Japan “to make sure we are doing everything we can to make them ready for operations and warfighting”.

This would include looking at “operational tempo, trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance and equipment”.

The review would be conducted on “a very tight timeline” Richardson said, adding: “We need to get to the bottom of this.”

The John S. McCain’s sister ship, the Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship on June 17. The bodies of seven US sailors were found in a flooded berthing area after that collision.

The US Navy said last week it had removed the two senior officers and the senior enlisted sailor on the Fitzgerald following an investigation into that collision.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO supreme commander, said the need for an operational pause and the loss of two front-line ballistic missile defense destroyers for months was “deeply worrisome”, especially at a time of high tensions with North Korea.

“The Navy has some real soul-searching ahead, and this appears to be a systemic failure of some kind,” he said.

Mac Thornberry, the Republican chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee, said the latest collision was the fourth major accident within the US Pacific Fleet this year and highlighted funding cuts and the time crews spent at sea.

“Congress has a duty to provide our sailors with the additional resources they so clearly need, and to do so immediately,” he said in a statement.

In May, a South Korean fishing vessel collided with the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain. Another guided-missile cruiser, Antietam, damaged its propellers in January while anchoring in Tokyo Bay.

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