US divers search for 10 missing sailors in hull of damaged destroyer
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – US Navy and Marine Corps divers began searching sealed sections of the damaged hull of a US warship on Tuesday for 10 sailors missing since the guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant vessel near Singapore, the US Navy said.
The USS John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided while the guided-missile vessel was nearing Singapore for a routine port call. The collision tore a hole in the warship’s port side at the waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area.
On Tuesday, ships, aircraft and divers from an international search-and-rescue operation were still looking for the missing US sailors in an area to the east of Singapore and peninsula Malaysia, near to where the accident took place.
The collision – the fourth major accident in the US Pacific fleet this year – prompted a fleet-wide investigation and plans for temporary halts in operations to focus on safety.
The US Seventh Fleet said in a statement on its website on Tuesday that divers equipped with surface-supplied air rigs will access sealed compartments located in damaged parts of the ship, which is now docked in Singapore.
“Additionally, they will conduct damage assessments of the hull and flooded areas,” the statement said.
Immediate efforts by the ship’s crew after the collision on Monday were able to halt flooding into other parts of the vessel’s hull, the statement said.
Divers involved in the search come from the US Navy’s Ship Repair Facility in Yokosuka, Japan and Commander Logistics Group Western Pacific and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
A CNN report on Tuesday, citing unidentified US Navy officials, said early indications suggested the collision was caused by a steering malfunction as the warship approached the Strait of Malacca. A US Navy spokesman contacted by Reuters could not immediately comment on the report.
The US Navy said in a statement late on Monday that aircraft from the amphibious assault ship the USS America, which was in port at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, would continue searching for the missing sailors. They joined aircraft and vessels from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia already searching in the area.
Damage control efforts on board the USS John S. McCain were focused on draining water from the ship and restoring auxiliary systems, the statement said. Divers had started assessing the warship’s damaged hull, it said.
HOLE IN HULL
A public affairs officer for the US Seventh Fleet told Reuters the USS John S. McCain remained pierside at Changi Naval Base and that a repair plan would be put in place after assessments were complete.
Admiral Scott Swift, who serves as the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, was in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on Tuesday.
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said it had deployed 250 personnel for the search-and-rescue effort, which had continued through the night. Video footage and still pictures showed that the collision had ripped a wide hole in the warship’s aft port side.
Five sailors were also injured in the accident, although the US Navy said none of those injuries was life-threatening.
On Monday, US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said there were no indications so far the collision was intentional or the result of cyber intrusion or sabotage.
“But review will consider all possibilities,” he said on Twitter.
Richardson said he was asking his fleet commanders worldwide for a one-to-two-day, staggered “operational pause” to discuss action to ensure safe and effective operations. He envisaged this could begin within a week.
He also said a comprehensive review would examine the training of US forces deployed to Japan “to make sure we are doing everything we can to make them ready for operations and warfighting”. The US Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Japan.
This would include looking at “operational tempo, trends in personnel, material, maintenance and equipment,” Richardson said. The John S. McCain is named for the father and grandfather of US Republican Senator John McCain, who were both admirals. McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.