Ten United States sailors were missing after a collision between a destroyer and a tanker near Singapore yesterday, the second involving a US warship and a merchant ship in Asia in about two months, triggering a fleet-wide probe of operations and training.
The guided-missile destroyer John S McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided while the warship was heading to 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 the port side aft,” it said in a statement. “There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured.”
US Defence Secretary James Mattis said chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson would conduct a broad investigation into naval operations after the collision.
Richardson said he was calling an “operational pause” worldwide “to make sure that we are taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world.”
The 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 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.
Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former Nato supreme commander, said it was “shocking” to see two fatal collisions in such a short time.
He said the need for an operational pause and the loss of two front-line ballistic missile defense destroyers for months to come was “deeply worrisome,” especially at a time of high tension with North Korea.
“The navy has some real soul-searching ahead, and this appears to be a systemic failure of some kind,” he said.
The navy said there was significant damage to the hull of the McCain. It said crew members were able to stop the flooding and the ship made its way to Singapore’s Changi Naval Base under its own power. Video footage showed an area of impact about 6m wide in the ship’s port side.
A crew member on the Alnic MC said there was no oil spilled from the Liberian-flagged, 183m tanker, which was carrying almost 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Taiwan to discharge in Singapore.
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said no injuries were reported on the Alnic, which suffered some damage above the waterline.