US destroyer collision: Hopes of finding survivors end with sea search called off

The Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Brave, a patrol vessel carrying 33 crew, leaving Tuas Naval Base in search and rescue efforts organized by the MPA on Aug 24, 2017. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The search-and-rescue efforts for the missing sailors of the USS John S. McCain have been called off, with the focus shifting to recovery efforts within the US destroyer.

The US Navy 7th Fleet said in a statement on Thursday (Aug 24) that its efforts will now be focused on search and recovery efforts inside flooded compartments in the ship. The statement added that one dead sailor has been identified while nine remain missing. Electronics Technician Kenneth Aaron Smith's remains were found by divers in the ship.

"After more than 80 hours of multinational search efforts, the US Navy suspended search and rescue efforts for missing USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) sailors in an approximately 2,100-square mile area east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore," said the US statement.

Separately, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said in response to the US Navy's announcement, "Singapore has decided to suspend the multi-agency search and rescue operation from 2100 hrs on Aug 24, 2017".

The US warship had collided with tanker Alnic MC in Singapore waters on Monday (Aug 21), leaving 10 sailors missing and five injured. All five sailors have been discharged from hospital to return to the command, said the US Navy on Thursday.

No survivors have been found since the multi-national search-and-rescue efforts began on Monday. But operations by the US Navy and Marine Corps divers, who found the remains of several missing sailors when they accessed sealed compartments in the damaged parts of the ship, have been ongoing.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) respects the US Navy's decision to suspend search and rescue missions for the USS John S. McCain, 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 exist among friends. "

"I want to thank all personnel from the SAF, Singapore Police Force, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and MPA who spent many hours painstakingly scanning the seas and supporting the operation."

"I also extend this thanks to Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia who participated in the search with us. Finally, my thanks go to the US Navy, who despite this tragedy conducted themselves with utmost professionalism and steadfastness."

Although search efforts will now be mostly focused on the damaged destroyer, the task can still be a difficult one.

Master Chief Joshua Dumke, master diver and commander of Logistics Group Western Pacific explained the dive team's operations, saying that they are surveying both the interior and exterior of the ship, to locate the missing sailors and develop a plan for repairs.

"The diving operations will enable us to get a clear picture of the situation and help to bring closure to those affected by this tragedy."

A statement from Stealth Maritime Corporation, which manages the Alnic MC, said that the tanker is currently discharging its cargo of 12,000 metric tons of fuel oil after being cleared to do so by Singapore authorities.

"Once the discharge is completed the Alnic MC will proceed to a Singaporean anchorage to undergo further assessment and repair. The crew will continue to operate and maintain the vessel during this process."

"We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of the US Navy sailors who have been affected by this terrible tragedy."

The Singapore-coordinated search and rescue efforts with the US, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia covered 5,524 sq km and involved more than 300 Singapore personnel from various agencies over the past four days.

Chief executive of MPA Andrew Tan said: "As the co-ordinating agency for the four-day search and rescue efforts, MPA thanks all personnel from participating nations who worked tirelessly with the Singapore agencies to assist the US Navy."

"We would like to express our condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased US Navy crew, and wish the injured crew speedy recovery."

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