ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. 7th Fleet said a search was still under way for 10 missing U.S. sailors after the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore early this morning local time.
The U.S. ship, named after both the grandfather and father of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was heading to Singapore for a routine port visit, a statement from the 7th Fleet said, and sustained “significant hull damage that resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms. Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding at sea.”
The merchant ship, Alnic MC, is a Liberian-flagged 600-foot oil and chemical tanker.
Malaysia and Singapore are assisting in the search for the missing U.S. seamen.
Asked about the collision late last night D.C. time, President Trump told reporters, “That’s too bad.” He later tweeted, “Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway.”
Adm. John Richardson, U.S. Navy chief of operations, told reporters that the collision is “obviously an extremely serious incident, and is the second such incident in a very short period of time, inside of three months, and, you know, very similar as well, and is the last of a series of incidents in the Pacific Fleet in particular. And that gives great cause for concern that there is something out there that we’re not getting at.”
In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship southwest of Japan; seven sailors were killed. Last week, the commanding officer, executive officer and senior non-commissioned officer of the USS Fitzgerald were relieved of their duties.
Richardson said the Navy is going to “really to take a look at, you know, the fundamentals, you know, at the unit and team level, to make sure that we’re not overlooking anything, really, in terms of just what I would call the blocking and tackling, you know, the basic seamanship, airmanship, those sorts of things — teamwork, how we do business on the bridge, you know, the fundamentals.”
“And so I’ve directed each of the fleet commanders to put together a plan, and I’m going to leave them some freedom to get at how they address those fundamentals, because each one of those commanders is wrestling with a different situation, to be honest, in their geographic area,” he said. “We want to do this pretty briskly.”
Richardson said the Navy is in an operational pause in the Pacific that he doesn’t envision lasting long.
Asked if there was a chance that the collision could have been intentional, he said it’s “certainly something we are giving full consideration to, but we have no indication that that’s the case yet.”
“But we’re looking at every possibility, so we’re not leaving anything to chance there,” he said, as they look at possibilities including cyber sabotage.
“An operational pause is a time where you sort of stand down. You devote some time at the command level, where you sit down, you know, those teams, and those teams will be dynamic, depending upon what sort of command that you’re talking about. And you do a, you know, an assessment and review of those sort of fundamental practices that are, sort of, you know, fundamental, I guess, to safe and effective operations,” Richardson explained. “And so, you know, this is not unusual. This is not the first time that we’ve done something like this. And so what you want to do is you want to make sure that you’ve defined a, you know, kind of a measurable end state to these things, so you’re just not, you know, spinning your wheels during them. And so that’s what I’ll be looking from the fleet commanders to determine.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that Richardson’s broader inquiry “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, which will fall, rightly, under the fleet commander’s investigation of what happened to his ship,” Mattis said. “This is a broader look at what is happening.”
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he agrees with Richardson that “more forceful action is urgently needed to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions.”
“Our sailors who risk their lives every day, in combat and in training, deserve no less,” he added. “I expect full transparency and accountability from the Navy leaders as they conduct the associated investigations and reviews.”