UPDATED: CNO Declares Operational Pause in Wake of Destroyer Collision
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) arrived at Changi Naval Base in the Republic of Singapore Aug. 21 after colliding with a merchant tanker near the Straits of Malacca. Ten Sailors from the destroyer remain missing from the collision, during which five other Sailors were injured.
In response, the chief of naval operations (CNO), Adm. John Richardson, has declared an operational pause in wake of this incident and the June collision of the McCain’s sister ship, USS Fitzgerald.
The John S. McCain collided with the Alnic MC east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, U.S. 7th Fleet officials said in an Aug. 21 release. The Straits of Malacca, a narrow waterway between Singapore and Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is one of the most heavily trafficked waterways in the world, connecting the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea.
The destroyer was on its way to Singapore for a routine port visit when the collision occurred at 6:24 a.m. Japan Standard Time Aug. 21, 5:24 p.m. EDT Aug. 20.
Four of the injured Sailors were medically evacuated by a Singapore Armed Forces helicopter to a hospital in Singapore for non-life-threatening injuries, the release said. The fifth injured Sailor does not require further medical attention.
Search-and-rescue efforts were launched with the assistance of Republic of Singapore Navy ships including Fearless-class patrol ships RSS Gallant and RSS Resilience, Singaporean Navy helicopters and the Singaporean Police Coast Guard vessel Basking Shark, in addition to harbor tugs. MH-60S Seahawk helicopters and MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft embarked on the amphibious assault ship USS America joined in the search.
The destroyer sustained a large hole punctured on the aft port side at the waterline, photographs of the ship show.
The 600-foot Alnic MC is a 30,000-ton Liberian-flagged petro-chemical tanker.
John S. McCain had completed a freedom-of-navigation operation in early August when it made a transit within 12 miles of one of the Chinese-occupied Spratly Islands near the Philippines.
The collision is the second in recent weeks involving a 7th Fleet DDG. On June 17, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a tanker near Yokosuka, Japan. Seven Sailors died in the incident and three were injured, including the commanding officer. The commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief of the destroyer were relieved of their duties by Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander, 7th Fleet. Additionally, a number of officer and enlisted watch standers were disciplined.
With Fitzgerald and John S. McCain out of operation for the foreseeable future, the 7th Fleet’s force of eight DDGs has been reduced by one-fourth. These ships are part of the ballistic-missile defense force based in Japan.
“This trend demands more forceful action,” Richardson said in an Aug. 21 video on the recent collisions. “As such, I’ve directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world. I want our fleet commanders to get together with their leaders and their commands to ensure that we’re taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world.
“In addition to that operational pause, I’ve directed a comprehensive review to ensure that we get at the contributing factors, the root causes of these incidents,” he said.
Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, has been named to take charge of the review.
“This [review] will include, but not be limited to, looking at operational tempo, trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance and equipment,” the CNO said. It will also include a review of how we train and certify our surface warfare community, including tactical and navigational proficiency. … We need to get to the bottom of this, so let’s get to it.”
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer released the following statement Aug. 21 regarding the incident:
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our shipmates onboard USS John S. McCain. The Navy family comes together during times of crisis and I want to thank those who are providing around-the-clock assistance to the affected Sailors and families. As details continue to emerge, we can be proud of the heroic effort by the crew to tend to the needs “of those injured and save the ship from further damage while returning safely to port.
“I also want to express my appreciation to the government of Singapore for their swift support and assistance during this time of need. The United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this incident and I ask all of you to keep the families of John S. McCain in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us.”