The search and rescue efforts for the missing sailors of the USS John S. McCain were called off yesterday, with the focus shifting to recovery operations within the US destroyer.
The US Navy 7th Fleet said in a statement yesterday that its efforts will now be focused on search and recovery operations inside flooded compartments in the ship, after more than 80 hours of search missions in the areas east of the Malacca and Singapore straits.
In response to the US Navy's announcement, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said the Republic decided to suspend the multi-agency search and rescue operation from 9pm yesterday.
The US warship had collided with tanker Alnic MC in Singapore waters on Monday, leaving 10 sailors missing and five injured. All five injured sailors have been released to return to the command.
No survivors among those missing has been found since the multinational search and rescue efforts began on Monday.
The US Navy and Marine Corps divers found the remains of several missing sailors when they accessed sealed compartments in the damaged parts of the ship, in ongoing operations.
GOODWILL AMONG FRIENDS
This has been a tragic event. I know that it has been hard even for seasoned commanders, especially when their men may be lost at sea. It will take time for the full recovery of the remains on board the USS John S. McCain. But this incident also showed the enormous goodwill and camaraderie that exists among friends.
DEFENCE MINISTER NG ENG HEN, in a Facebook post yesterday on the collision between the US destroyer and an oil tanker, and alluding to the assistance rendered by several countries, including Singapore, in the search-and-rescue efforts.
In an earlier update yesterday, the US Navy said a body found by the Royal Malaysian Navy on Tuesday was not that of a USS John S. McCain sailor, and would be returned to the Malaysian authorities.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post last night that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) respects the US Navy's decision to suspend search and rescue missions, and will also suspend its own operations, together with the MPA and the Police Coast Guard.
"This has been a tragic event. I know that it has been hard even for seasoned commanders, especially when their men may be lost at sea.
"It will take time for the full recovery of the remains on board the USS John S. McCain. But this incident also showed the enormous goodwill and camaraderie that exists among friends."
A statement from Stealth Maritime Corporation, which manages the Alnic MC, said the tanker is currently discharging its cargo of 12,000 metric tons of fuel oil after being cleared to do so by the Singapore authorities.
Although search efforts will now be mostly focused on the damaged destroyer, the task can still be a difficult one.
Experts say divers have to be involved as the USS John S. McCain is too big to be hoisted up.
"It has to go into a drydock in a shipyard," said Mr Richard Tan, 59, a former commanding officer of the Naval Diving Unit in the SAF.
The Straits Times understands that Changi Naval Base has a drydock, but it is too small to fit a ship the size of the American destroyer.
Mr Kevin Loh, 47, director of commercial diving company Dive Squad, said the damage to the ship, which seemed to be enclosed and partially above the water line, means there is a "high probability" that the missing sailors might still be inside.
The enclosed structure prevents divers from entering the compartments, added Mr Loh, a former professional commercial diver with close to 20 years of experience.
Mr Tan, who was in the navy for 15 years and is currently a general manager at KB Marine Services, said such rescue work is delicate.
"You can't have 20 divers working on the same area at the same time. You don't want to cause debris to fall and injure the divers, or further damage the ship or equipment," he added.
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