WASHINGTON, D.C.: The US Navy announced a fleet-wide global investigation after the latest in a series of warship accidents left 10 sailors missing and five injured.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson ordered commanders within a week to set aside time, perhaps “one or two days”, for crews to sit down together after the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker off Singapore early Monday.
A “comprehensive review” of practices would also begin.
“As you know, this is the second collision in three months and the last of a series of incidents in the Pacific theater,” Richardson said.
“This trend demands more forceful action. As such, I have directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world.”
The admiral did not rule out some kind of outside interference or a cyber-attack being behind the latest collision, but said he did not want to prejudge the inquiry. His broader remarks suggested a focus on “how we do business on the bridge.”
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on a visit to Jordan, said Richardson’s “broader enquiry will look at all related accidents, incidents at sea, that sort of thing. He is going to look at all factors, not just the immediate one.”
Ten US sailors were still missing after the collision between the McCain and the Alnic MC in the busy shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait, which left a gaping hole in the warship’s hull.
A major search involving ships and aircraft from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the US is under way for the missing sailors.
On Tuesday US Navy divers joined the hunt and were set to search compartments in damaged parts of the ship which were flooded during the accident. They would also conduct damage assessments of the hull and flooded areas, the navy said.
The amphibious assault ship USS America—which arrived in Singapore Monday—was providing support to crew members from the McCain and helping to drain water from the warship and repair damaged systems.
Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, was in Singapore Tuesday and visited a hospital where four injured sailors were recovering. The fifth injured sailor did not need hospital treatment.
The badly damaged destroyer had limped into port under escort after the dramatic pre-dawn accident.
Analysts said the accident, following June’s collision off Japan involving a US warship which killed seven US seamen, raised questions about whether the US Navy was overstretched in Asia as it seeks to combat Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The McCain has been heading for a routine stop in Singapore after carrying out a “freedom of navigation operation” in the disputed South China Sea earlier in August around a reef in the Spratly Islands, sparking a furious response from Beijing.
The damaged vessel is named after US Senator John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both admirals in the US navy.
McCain himself welcomed the review.
“I agree with Admiral Richardson that more forceful action is urgently needed to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions,” he said.
“I expect full transparency and accountability from the Navy leaders as they conduct the associated investigations and reviews.”
President Donald Trump tweeted: “Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway.”
The tanker involved in the collision, which was used for transporting oil and chemicals and weighed over 30,000 gross tons, sustained some damage but no crew were injured, and Singapore said there was no oil pollution.
In the June incident, the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship in a busy channel not far from Yokosuka, a gateway to container ports in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama.
The dead sailors, aged 19 to 37, were found by divers in flooded sleeping berths a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the ship’s side.
A senior admiral announced last week that the commander of the destroyer and several other officers had been relieved of their duties aboard their ship over the incident.
Both the USS John McCain and USS Fitzgerald are part of the US Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka.