Navy chief orders probe into Pacific fleet after collisions

Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi naval base in Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC Monday. (Associated Press)

SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet as vessels from several nations searched Southeast Asian waters for 10 missing U.S. sailors after an early morning collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker.

 

It was the second major collision in the last two months involving the Navy’s 7th Fleet. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.

Navy Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, will call for a pause in operations and seek a deeper look at how the Navy trains and certifies its forces that are operating around Japan, according to a Naval official.

“He has put together a broader inquiry to look into these incidents,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, referring to the two recent collisions and other accidents at sea. Mattis spoke to reporters in Amman, Jordan, where he is traveling.

Vessels and aircraft from the U.S., Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are searching for the missing sailors in Monday’s collision. Four other sailors were evacuated by a Singaporean navy helicopter to a hospital in the city-state for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, the Navy said. A fifth was taken to the hospital by ambulance after the destroyer arrived in Singapore under its own power, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said.

The McCain had been heading to Singapore on a routine port visit after conducting a sensitive freedom-of-navigation operation last week by sailing near one of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea. The collision east of Singapore between the guided missile destroyer and the 183-meter (600-foot) Alnic MC ripped a gaping hole in the destroyer’s hull.

There have been four ship crashes in the last two years.

The Navy review will look at the fleet’s performance including personnel, navigation capabilities, maintenance, equipment, surface warfare training, munitions, certifications and how sailors move through their careers, according to a Navy official. Richardson wants to ensure there aren’t bigger problems in the fleet that may be masked by the high pace of operations there and budget uncertainties within the Defense Department, said the Navy official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation publically before the announcement, so spoke on condition of anonymity

The Navy official said that beyond the tragedy of the lost lives and the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on repairs, Richardson wants to be sure that the Navy is able to meet the maritime demands, particularly in the Pacific region.

Richardson has directed Adm. Phil Davidson, head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces, to lead the investigation. Davidson will assemble a panel of officers to help with the investigation and will have the full use of the Navy’s office of the inspector general as well as the safety center, according to Richardson.

 

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