Rescue crews are searching for at least missing 10 sailors after the USS John S. McCain was damaged in a large-scale collision off Singapore. The Pentagon announced an intense probe into the US warships around the world.
The Pentagon asked fleet commanders worldwide to schedule a one-to-two-day "pause" in the Navy's operations after the latest collision involving an American warship and a large civilian vessel.
On Monday, the US destroyer John S. McCain sustained damage after it collided with a merchant vessel while en route to Singapore. This incident follows a deadly collision between another American destroyer, USS Fitzgerald and container ship off Japan in June. Both of the warships are part of the American 7th fleet.
"There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured," the Navy said of the latest incident on Monday. "Significant damage to the hull resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms." The crew managed to halt the flooding, and the ship was able to reach a port in Singapore on its own power.
The Navy launched a search and rescue operation for the missing crew members. Osprey aircraft and Seahawk helicopters from the USS America are assisting the operation.
Probe on 'very tight timeline'
Hours later, the US Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson ordered top Navy brass to prepare pauses in fleet operations, aimed at facilitating a "comprehensive review" of the US Navy practices.
"As you know, this is the second collision in three months and the last of a series of incidents in the Pacific theater," Richardson told reporters, expressing concern that "there is something out there we are not getting at."
"This trend demands more forceful action." he added. "As such, I have directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world."
The review would examine equipment, maintenance trends, and other factors, including the operational tempo and the training of US troops deployed to Japan. It would be conducted on a "very tight timeline," possibly within the week, Richardson said.
USS John S. McCain was returning from a freedom of navigation exercise in the regions of the South China Sea claimed by Beijing. However, there was no indication that the collision was intentional or the product of cyber attacks or sabotage, Admiral Richardson said on Monday.
Malaysia's navy chief, Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, said two Malaysian naval ships joined the search and rescue operation. Singapore also deployed ships to assist US naval vessels.
"Our first priority is determining the safety of the ship. As more information is learned, we will share it," Richardson, who heads US naval operations, said in a tweet.
According to marinetraffic.com, the Alnic MC is listed as an oil and chemical tanker under the Liberian flag. The ship was carrying nearly 12,000 tons of fuel oil, Reuters news agency reported. However, the tanker did not report any spillage as a result of the collision.
US Senator John McCain said he was keeping the warship's sailors "in our prayers tonight." The vessel is named after his grandfather. US President Donald Trump later published a tweet saying the missing sailors were in his "thoughts and prayers."
The accidental collision was the second in two months involving a ship from the Navy's 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, leaving seven US sailors dead.
The collision prompted the US Navy to relieve several senior commanders of their duty, saying it could have been avoided.
The USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald are ships capable of ballistic missile defense. They form part of the same Japan-based destroyer squadron.
ls, dj/kl (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)