In the second major accident involving a vessel from the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in just over two months, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, collided with a tanker east of Singapore in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, leaving 10 sailors missing and five injured, the navy said.
The McCain collided with the Alnic MC in waters east of the Strait of Malacca and Singapore at around 5:24 a.m. local time, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
Four of the injured were evacuated by a Singapore Navy helicopter and were hospitalized in the city-state. Their injuries were not life threatening, the navy said. The fifth injured sailor did not require further medical attention.
The 7th Fleet said the port, or left-hand, side of the McCain had been significantly damaged and “resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms.” Damage-control efforts by the crew reportedly halted further flooding.
Malaysia’s navy chief, Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin, tweeted a photo of the McCain showing a gaping hole near its waterline.
But the 7th Fleet said the ship had sailed under its own power and arrived at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base in the afternoon.
Massive search and rescue efforts were underway in coordination with local authorities, it said, adding that Singapore Navy ships and helicopters, a coast guard vessel and tug boats were assisting in the hunt for the missing.
The U.S. Navy said that Ospreys and helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS America were also taking part in the search effort.
The McCain had been transiting to a routine port visit in Singapore. The warship on Aug. 10 had carried out a so-called freedom of navigation operation near a Chinese-held artificial island in the disputed South China Sea.
“Our first priority is determining the safety of the ship and crew,” Adm. John Richardson, the U.S. Navy’s chief of operations, stated via Twitter. “As more information is learned, we will share it.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also weighed in on Twitter after earlier saying, in response to reporters questions about the collision, that the incident was “too bad,” according to a pool report.
“Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway,” Trump said in the tweet.
The civilian vessel involved in the crash, the Alnic, is a 30,000-ton Liberian-flagged tanker used for transporting oil and chemicals, according to industry website Marine Traffic.
Singapore’s Maritime and Ports Authority said the Alnic had sustained damage to a compartment at the front of the ship some 7 meters above its waterline. It said there were no reports of a chemical or oil spill and no crew injuries.
The Strait of Malacca, between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is notoriously difficult to navigate because of congested traffic and reported episodes of piracy in recent years.
This latest incident comes just two months after the USS Fitzgerald’s collision with a Philippine-flagged freighter in the middle of the night off the Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo.
Seven U.S. sailors were killed in that incident. Just last week the navy relieved the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, executive officer and senior enlisted sailor for mistakes that led to the deadly crash.
Aside from the Fitzgerald crash, the U.S. military has seen a number of incidents in the Pacific in recent months.
On Aug. 5, a U.S. MV-22 Osprey crashed off the coast of Australia, killing three marines. Earlier in the month, a sailor aboard the USS Stethem guided-missile destroyer went missing, while in June a U.S. sailor who sparked a 50-hour man-overboard search off Japan was found to be hiding on his ship, the USS Shiloh.
Bryan McGrath, a retired U.S. Navy commander who was the skipper of the USS Bulkeley destroyer, said it was “hard to tell whether these are coincidences or there is something deeper.”
“We just don’t know yet,” he said. “But I have every confidence the navy will get the facts.”
The McCain and Fitzgerald — both equipped with the Aegis missile-defense system, which has been touted as a potential counter to any North Korean missile launch — were part of the same Yokosuka-based squadron until the Fitzgerald was heavily damaged in its crash.
Not counting the Fitzgerald, which is due to be transported to the U.S. next month, the 7th Fleet has six ships assigned to ballistic missile defense patrols, with half of those on patrol at any given time, it said.
McGrath said the loss of two of the Pacific Fleet’s guided-missile destroyers was “not insignificant” in terms of strategic implications in the region.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has continued its saber-rattling, ratcheting up tensions with a number of missile tests — including two of a long-range missile — in recent months.
A large-scale joint exercise involving the U.S. and South Korean militaries kicked off Monday, further stoking anger in Pyongyang — which views the drill as an invasion rehearsal.
Amid this threat, McGrath said there may be moves to bolster the U.S. presence in the region.
“There could be ramifications for the Hawaii and West Coast U.S. DDGs in terms of moving up deployments,” he said, referring to the NATO standard designation for a destroyer armed with guided missiles.
The USS McCain is named after John S. McCain, Sr., and John S. McCain, Jr. — both admirals in the U.S. Navy, and the grandfather and father, respectively, of the current Arizona senator.
The senator tweeted that he and his wife were “keeping America’s sailors aboard the USS John S. McCain in our prayers tonight — appreciate the work of search & rescue crews.”
An assistance center has been set up for families. It can be reached at 011-81-46-816-1728 (international) or 243-1728 (DSN on base).