For the second time in just two months, a U.S. Navy ship collided with a commercial ship, leading to deaths. The accident has the navy scrambling for answers and suspending operations around the world to determine what went wrong and how the collision could have been prevented. The commander of the fleet has been removed from his position as investigations continue.
The Accident on August 21
On Monday, August 21, in waters just east of Singapore, the USS John S. McCain collided with a commercial tanker. The navy ship is a guided-missile destroyer and was operating in the Pacific. At the time of the accident, the destroyer was heading into port at Singapore. It occurred at 5:24 a.m. at the local time. The collision happened just east of the Malacca Strait, and this is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. The destroyer collided with the commercial tanker, Alnic MC.
Although the USS McCain did not sink, it was severely damaged with a large gash in the hull that caused it to flood significantly. The ship was able to make it to Changi Naval Base in Singapore under its own power. After the accident occurred, ten sailors from the destroyer were immediately reported missing. A search and rescue effort began right away, but waters were rough.
None of the crew aboard the tanker was harmed. The commercial vessel, flagged in Liberia, is three to four times bigger than the navy destroyer. In a congested area, the smaller, nimbler ship should have been able to navigate around the larger tanker, which requires miles of space to change direction. Within one week of the accident, the remains of the ten missing sailors were all recovered, and it was determined that they all died on board the ship.
Operations Halted, Answers Sought
The collision came after a similar accident in the waters off the coast of Japan that left seven sailors dead. The earlier incident occurred in June, but there were also two other similar accidents earlier in 2017. In response to the latest of these accidents, this one causing the most fatalities, the U.S. Navy ordered a suspension of operations for at least one day.
The purpose of the suspension is to examine safety procedures and operational procedures. The navy also hopes to investigate the incident and how manning, training, and communications may play a role in accidents like these. The stoppage in operations throughout the entire Seventh Fleet is rare. Following the suspension of operations, the head of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, was relieved of duty, although he was already set to retire within a few weeks of the accident.
Admiral Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has dismissed suggestions that the crew aboard the USS McCain had been overworked or that they were not prepared or adequately trained. He stated that the crew responded quickly and correctly to the collision and prevented an even worse disaster from occurring. Still, the incident and those like it that occurred earlier in the year raise a lot of questions over how the navy is operating. The ongoing investigation is expected to come up with some answers, if not all.