US Navy collision: Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau to probe incident

The damaged USS John S. McCain is seen off Changi Naval Base, after colliding with a tanker, on Aug 21, 2017.
The damaged USS John S. McCain is seen off Changi Naval Base, after colliding with a tanker, on Aug 21, 2017. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) in Singapore has launched a marine safety investigation into the collision of the USS John S. McCain warship with an oil tanker, and will publish its findings when investigations are complete.

In a statement on Thursday (Aug 31), the TSIB said it has already started working with investigators from the US Coast Guard and Liberian Maritime Administration in interviewing crew members of the tanker, the Liberian-flagged Alnic MC.

The investigation started immediately after the collision in Singapore waters on Aug 21, which had damaged the US warship's left side, near the stern, the TSIB spokesman added. Ten sailors were killed and five others injured. They were all from the USS John S. McCain.

Following the collision, Singapore coordinated a search-and-rescue operation with the United States, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, covering 5,524 sq km, an area more than seven times the size of Singapore.

It also involved more than 300 personnel from several agencies, including the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Coast Guard and the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The Singapore maritime authorities were able to detect only the oil tanker, and not the US destroyer, before the collision.

The monitoring system that was utilised detects and tracks vessels via radar or the Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals, and enables an alert to be sent to vessels in the event of an impending collision and to get them to change course.

Naval experts say the Singapore authorities' monitoring system had likely detected the tanker through the latter's AIS. But the AIS in the warship might have been switched off as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea does not require the presence of warship in waters to be detected.

But other vessels in the vicinity should have been able to detect or see the destroyer on their radar systems or by sight.

Experts have suggested a few other possible causes for the collision, including a potential cyber breach that may have disabled the destroyer's computer system.

It has also been suggested that the warship could have been hit by a technical failure that jammed its steering. Human error is another possible cause that has been floated.

The TSIB, which was formed on Aug 1, 2016, as the air and marine accidents and incidents investigation authority, said that it is conducting the investigation in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation's Casualty Investigation Code in Singapore's capacity as a coastal state.

As "substantially interested states", the Liberian Maritime Administration and the US Coast Guard, acting on behalf of the US National Transportation Safety Board, are also participating in Singapore's safety investigation.

The TSIB has been working with the US Coast Guard to gather information about the USS John S. McCain warship, including statements from the crew. It has also obtained shipboard data from Alnic MC and other ships in the area at the time of the collision to support the investigation.