Sea Platforms

Series of deadly accidents in Pacific reverberate across the US Navy

23 August 2017

US Pacific Fleet on 22 August relieved Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Japan-based Seventh Fleet, from his job following a slew of major accidents.Part of damages sustained by USS John S McCain from its collision in the Singapore Strait on 21 August. (Royal Malaysian Navy)

Admiral Scott Swift, the US Pacific Fleet commander, relieved Vice Adm Aucoin “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command”. Vice Adm Aucoin led the Seventh Fleet since 2015 and was set to retire in about a month. Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer, who had already been confirmed for the position and promotion, assumed command.

The move is symbolic, since Rear Adm Sawyer would have replaced Vice Adm Aucoin anyway, and is meant to underscore the US Navy’s (USN’s) concern over a series of deadly accidents in the Pacific.

USS John S McCain (DDG 56) on 21 August collided with a 183 m Liberian-registered oil and chemical tanker near Singapore. Five USN sailors were injured and 10 were reported missing. As of this writing at least some of the missing sailors were confirmed to have died.

On 1 August a sailor was reported missing from USS Stethem (DDG 63) while it was in the South China Sea. USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) on 17 June collided with a merchant vessel about 56 n miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, killing seven USN sailors. On 9 May USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) collided with a South Korean fishing vessel. USS Antietam (CG 54) ran aground Tokyo Bay on 31 January.

Seeing a trend after John S McCain ’s collision, US Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson on 21 August ordered “an operational pause” and a separate “comprehensive review” across the entire USN.

Adm Richardson said he ordered all fleet commanders to discuss with subordinates how they can rectify this situation during the operational pause.

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