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Entire US navy brought to a standstill after 10 sailors lost in Singapore collision

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC near the Straits of Malacca.

File photo of the the USS John S McCain.
File photo of the the USS John S McCain.
Image: Lsis James Whittle/Zuma Press/PA Images

Updated 6.22pm

THE US NAVY declared a worldwide pause in its operations today after the latest in a series of accidents left ten sailors missing and five injured.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson ordered an “operational pause” to allow a “comprehensive review” of practices after the destroyer USS John McCain was hit by a merchant tanker off Singapore.

“As you know this is the second collision in three months and the last of a series of incidents in the Pacific theater,” Richardson said.

“This trend demands more forceful action. As such I have directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world.”

US Defense Secretary James Mattis, on a visit to Jordan, said Richardson’s “broader enquiry will look at all related accidents, incidents at sea, that sort of thing. He is going to look at all factors, not just the immediate one.”

There was no official word on how long the disruption to the world’s most powerful navy, active in all of the world’s oceans, might last. But some US media suggested the pause would last for a day.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC near the Straits of Malacca in the early hours, the US Navy said.

“Initial reports indicate John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft,” it said in a statement as the ship headed to port in Singapore.

Four of the injured sailors were evacuated from the warship to a Singapore hospital by helicopter with non life-threatening injuries while the fifth did not require further medical attention, the navy said.

The destroyer was sailing under its own power after the collision with the Liberian-flagged tanker at 5:24 am (10.24pm Irish time last night). The ship had been heading for a routine stop in Singapore.

The vessel is named after US Senator John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both admirals in the US navy.

McCain said in a tweet that he and his wife “are keeping America’s sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight – appreciate the work of search & rescue crews”.

President Donald Trump initially said “that’s too bad” in response to reporters’ shouted questions about the collision, as he arrived back at the White House after a holiday.

He followed up with a Tweet: “Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway”.

It was the second recent collision involving a US warship after seven sailors died in June when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship in a busy channel in Japan.

Air-sea search

After the latest incident, a major search and rescue operation was launched.

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Singapore sent three tugboats, and four navy and police coastguard vessels while Malaysia – whose southern Johor state was close to the collision – deployed eight ships and said it was going to send aircraft to help in the search.

A US helicopter was taking part in the search and two other American aircraft were expected to arrive soon, the navy said.

The ship involved in the accident is a Liberian-flagged tanker used for transporting oil and chemicals and weighing over 30,000 tonnes, according to industry website Marine Traffic.

The tanker sustained some damage but no crew were injured, Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said. There were no reports of oil pollution and maritime traffic in Singapore waters was unaffected, it said.

In the June accident, the collision happened in a busy channel not far from Yokosuka, a gateway to container ports in the Japanese capital Tokyo and nearby Yokohama.

The dead sailors, aged 19 to 37, were found by divers in flooded sleeping berths a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the side of the Fitzgerald.

A senior admiral announced last week that the commander of the destroyer and several other officers were relieved of their duties aboard their ship over the incident.

Both the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald are part of the US Seventh Fleet, based in Yokosuka.

© – AFP, 2017

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