Navy Hits Pause and Launches Review After Second Collision at Sea

Mattis's visit, his second to the region, is the latest in a string of appearances by top US officials who have scrambled to reassure partners about US commitments

WASHINGTON – The Navy is implementing an “operational pause” of its ships and has launched a review to examine why two destroyers have collided with merchant vessels over two months in the Asia Pacific, its chief announced Monday.

“As you know, this is the second collision in three months, and the last in a series of incidents in the Pacific Theater. This trend demands more forceful action. As such, I’ve directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world. We want our fleet commanders to get together with their leaders and their commands to ensure that we’re taking all appropriate immediate action to ensure safe and effective operations around the world,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in a video statement.

“In addition to the operational pause, I’ve directed a more comprehensive review to make sure that we get at the contributing factors, the root causes of these incidents,” he said. “This review is in addition to the investigations that are looking into the details of the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and now, the USS John S. McCain.”

The announcement comes after the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged tanker Sunday night near Singapore, leaving five sailors injured and 10 missing.

“I want to begin by saying my thoughts and prayers are with the sailors and families of the USS John McCain. We obviously have an investigation underway, and that will determine what happened,” Mattis told reporters on Monday.

“I also fully support the chief and naval operations, Admiral John Richardson’s efforts now. He has put together a broader inquiry to look into these incidents and determine what’s going on – both immediate contributors to this incident but also any related factors. Once we have those facts, we’ll share them with you,” he said.

Mattis said the inquiry will look at all related accidents and incidents at sea, and “all factors, not just the immediate ones.”

Search efforts for the ten missing sailors are currently underway.

On Sunday evening eastern time and Monday morning 6:24 a.m. local time, the guided-missile destroyer McCain collided with the Liberian-flagged merchant vessel Alnic MC, while it was headed to a port in Singapore.

At 600 feet and a gross tonnage of 30,000, the Alnic MC is three times the size of the McCain.

There was “significant damage” to the hull, resulting in flooding in nearby compartments, including crew berthing, and machinery and communications rooms, according to the Navy.

Four of the sailors injured were flown to a hospital in Singapore for non-life threatening injuries, and a fifth does not require further medical attention.

The McCain sailed to the Changi Naval Base in Singapore under its own power, the Navy said.

The incident mirrors an incident two months ago when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal in June. Seven sailors died in the collision.

Admiral Richardson announced the Navy’s actions in a video statement on Monday.


Richardson said he has asked Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command to run the investigation, which will look into the process of training and certifying forces forward-deployed in Japan.

The investigation will look at operational tempo, “trends in personnel,” material, maintenance, and equipment, he said. It will also look into how the whole surface warfare community is trained and certified, including tactical and navigational proficiency, he said.

The review would include outside agencies to make sure nothing is missed, and be done “on a very tight timeline,” he said.

“This requires urgent action, and we need to get to it and take corrective action,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of this, so let’s get to it.”

Trump tweeted on Sunday: “Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway.”

This article has been expanded since publication.


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