WASHINGTON • The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, has ordered an operational pause across the entire US Navy following the collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker three times its size east of Singapore early yesterday morning.
Noting it was "the latest in a series of major incidents, particularly in the Pacific theatre", Adm Richardson said that the "trend demands more forceful action". He promised a swift investigation.
The pause is a one-day safety stand-down that would be done over the course of a few weeks and at the discretion of individual commands, a source told CNN.
Yesterday's collision left a large hole in the naval ship's side, with five sailors hurt and 10 others still missing. It caused significant damage to the hull, flooding of nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms, the Seventh Fleet said in a statement.
This was the second time since June that a navy destroyer based at the Seventh Fleet's home port of Yokosuka, Japan, has been involved in a sea collision.
It came just days after the US Navy issued a damning report listing errors that led to a collision in June between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship south of Japan, which flooded berthing compartments and killed seven sailors.
The navy said it would discipline a dozen sailors, including the top two officers.
President Donald Trump, returning to the White House on Sunday night, responded to reporters' questions about the collision by saying: "That is too bad." He later posted a tweet: "Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway."
Analysts were incredulous that a second destroyer could be involved in another collision so soon after the USS Fitzgerald incident.
"Clearly this is an annus horribilis for the US Navy," Dr Euan Graham, director of the International Security Programme at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, told the New York Times. He also told the Washington Post the incident could affect the Seventh Fleet and its readiness.
"They were already stretched after the Fitzgerald collision, and now they have lost a second front- line destroyer... with the tensions around North Korea and in the South China Sea," he said.
For a destroyer to be hit by an oil tanker would be like that between "an F1 sports car and a garbage truck", said Dr Kirk Patterson, a former dean of the Japan campus of Temple University. "Which one is going to be able to avoid the collision? An F1 racing car equipped with state-of-the-art missiles."
In Japan, both Defence Ministry and Self-Defence Forces officials expressed concern about the impact on the Japan-US security system amid anxiety over a possible new missile launch by North Korea. The USS John S. McCain is equipped with a defence system that detects and intercepts ballistic missiles.
Meanwhile, families of the ship's crew members in the US waited for news of their loved ones.
"No word yet, but some sailors have called on cell to families," Mrs Marla Meriano, the mother of 24- year-old Meghan Meriano, an electrical officer, wrote on Facebook. "Thank you for all the prayers and remarks," she said two hours later.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, NYTIMES, YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK