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Top Navy admiral orders a fleetwide investigation following latest collision involving ships

By ANNA FIFIELD, DAN LAMOTHE
The Washington Post

August 21. 2017 8:50PM
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters on Monday. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

SEOUL — The Navy’s top admiral on Monday ordered a fleetwide review of seamanship and training in the Pacific after the service’s fourth major accident at sea this year, a collision of the USS John S. McCain off Singapore that left 10 sailors missing.

The accident, which occurred east of the Strait of Malacca about 5:24 a.m. local time with an oil tanker three times the size of the guided-missile destroyer, could be the Navy’s second deadly ship collision in about two months. On June 17, the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided off the coast of Japan with a much heavier container ship, drowning seven sailors after a berthing compartment inside the ship flooded in less than a minute.

In addition, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel on May 9 off the Korean Peninsula and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground Jan. 31 in Tokyo Bay, near its home port of Yokosuka, Japan.

Navy Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told reporters Monday that he was “devastated and heartbroken” by the disaster. The ship is now moored at Changi naval base in Singapore, with the amphibious assault ship USS America arriving to provide support and assistance to the McCain’s crew.

Richardson said the series of accidents in the Pacific “demands more-forceful action,” adding that there is “great cause for concern that there is something we are not getting at.” He ordered Navy fleets across the world to take a day or two within the next week to review their procedures and training to make sure they are operating safely.

More significantly, Richardson ordered a separate investigation into how the Navy prepares its forces to operate in the Pacific.

“This will include, but not be limited to, looking at operational tempo, trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance and equipment,” Richardson said. “It also will include a review of how we train and certify our surface warfare community, including tactical and navigational proficiency.”

Richardson said he wanted a broad and diverse team reviewing operations as part of the investigation, with the Navy inspector general’s office, the Navy Safety Center and outside experts all assisting.

The probe will be led by Adm. Philip Davidson, who leads Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.

“This review will be on a very tight timeline,” Richardson said. “I want to get frequent updates. This requires urgent action. We need to get to it and take corrective action.” He added that he wants it concluded “in the few-months time frame.”

Richardson said the investigation of the collision will review all possibilities, including some that are seen as less likely by experts, such as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

He also said there is “no indication” that anyone aboard either crew deliberately caused the collision.

Richardson’s comments came as the Navy continued a search for the missing sailors that included searches of the route the McCain had taken and an effort to explore flooded areas of the ship.

Photos of the disabled ship arriving in port showed a large hole on its left, or port, side at the waterline. More than 18 hours after the collision, the Navy had not disclosed any progress on the hunt for the missing sailors, but a search of flooded areas of the ship was expected to commence again after daybreak in Singapore.

The McCain is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer — named after the father and grandfather of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and nicknamed “Big Bad John” — that had been on its way to a routine port visit in Singapore after patrolling in the South China Sea.

Shipping data showed the Liberian-flagged merchant vessel Alnic MC was also on its way to Singapore when the ships collided before sunrise.

The 550-mile-long strait runs between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans, and is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The Alnic has a gross tonnage of 30,000, compared with the McCain’s 8,300.

The collision caused significant damage to the hull, flooded nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms, the 7th Fleet said in a statement. “Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding,” it said.

Four sailors were medically evacuated from the McCain by a Singapore armed-forces helicopter and were in a hospital in Singapore being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening.

A fifth sailor who was injured did not require further medical attention, the statement said.


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