TOKYO • The collision of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer with a merchant ship near Singapore in August that killed 10 sailors was preventable, the US Navy said after it relieved the warship's commander and his deputy of their duties.
"The commanding officer exercised poor judgment and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship's training programme," the USS Seventh Fleet said in a statement released in Japan yesterday.
A spate of United States naval collisions this year has resulted in a major leadership shake-up in the US Navy in Asia, as it tackles increased tensions with North Korea and engages in operations in the South China Sea that challenge Beijing's growing control of the waterway.
The US Navy in August ordered a fleet-wide probe and removed Seventh Fleet chief Joseph Aucoin, citing a lack of confidence in his ability to command.
Last month, Admiral Scott Swift, responsible for US naval forces in the Pacific, said he plans to retire after being passed over for promotion to the chief of all military forces in the region.
The incident is among a series mishaps, including three colli-sions and a grounding, that have exposed the navy's struggle to address widespread leadership shortcomings and its erosion of training standards.
The McCain's sister ship, the Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan in June after colliding with a Philippine container ship. That incident claimed the lives of seven US sailors.
FAILINGS IN LEADERSHIP
The commanding officer exercised poor judgment and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship's training programme.
THE USS SEVENTH FLEET
In May, a South Korean fishing vessel collided with the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain, while another guided-missile cruiser, Antietam, damaged its propellers in January while anchoring in Tokyo Bay.
In September, navy leaders acknowledged several unsettling truths about the service's dangerous deployment pace and the role physical exhaustion - some sailors routinely endure 100-hour workweeks, they said - may have played in the deadly collisions involving McCain and Fitzgerald.
The McCain's captain, Commander A. Sanchez, and his executive officer, Commander J. Sanchez, were reassigned to other duties in Japan, where the Seventh Fleet is headquartered, the navy said.
The Seventh Fleet operates as many as 70 ships, including the US Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, and has about 140 aircraft and 20,000 sailors.
The full findings of Singapore's investigations into the Aug 21 collision of McCain and Liberian-registered oil tanker Alnic MC will be made public once it is ready, Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau said last month.
The process typically takes up to 12 months.
The incident left a gaping hole in the warship's hull stretching above and below the waterline. The 10 victims were found dead inside flooded compartments.
Following the collision, Singapore coordinated a search and rescue operation for the sailors with the US, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia covering 5,524 sq km, an area more than seven times the size of Singapore, said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer left Changi Naval Base last Thursday, more than six weeks after the crash, headed for the US Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan, where the forward-deployed ship will be repaired.
REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST