War with Iran is the mother of all wars: Iran president

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is seen during a meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and with deputies and Senior directors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, Iran, August 6, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – War with Iran is the mother of all wars, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday in a speech broadcast live on state TV, warning once again that shipping might not be safe in the Strait of Hormuz oil waterway.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the West since last year when the United States pulled out of an international agreement which curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Iran.

“Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said at the Foreign Ministry in a speech which also praised Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after the United States imposed sanctions on him on July 31.

If the United States wants to have negotiations with Iran then it must lift all sanctions, Rouhani said, noting that Iran must be allowed to export oil.

Fuelling fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions, the Guards seized British tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz in July for alleged marine violations, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.

“A strait for a strait. It can’t be that the Strait of Hormuz is free for you and the Strait of Gibraltar is not free for us,” Rouhani said.

Approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil traffic passes through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The Guards seized an Iraqi oil tanker in the Gulf on Wednesday which they said was smuggling fuel and detained seven crewmen, Iran’s state media reported.

(Story corrects date of Iraqi ship’s seizure)

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams)

Flags of inconvenience: noose tightens around Iranian shipping

FILE PHOTO: Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 sits anchored after it was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria, in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

By Jonathan Saul, Parisa Hafezi and Marianna Parraga

LONDON/DUBAI/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – Somewhere on its journey from the waters off Iran, around Africa’s southern tip and into the Mediterranean, the Grace 1 oil tanker lost the flag under which it sailed and ceased to be registered to Panama. Iran later claimed it as its own.

The ship carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian crude was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar, raising tensions in the Gulf where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation.

Grace 1 remains impounded, not because of its flag but because it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, an allegation that Iran denies.

Yet Panama’s move on May 29 to strike it from its register mid-voyage was part of a global squeeze on Iranian shipping.

Nations that register vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” allowing them to sail legally have de-listed dozens of tankers owned by Iran in recent months, tightening the economic noose around it.

In the biggest cull, Panama, the world’s most important flag state, removed 59 tankers linked to Iran and Syria earlier this year, a decision welcomed by the United States which wants to cut off Tehran’s vital oil exports.

Panama and some other key flag states are looking more closely at the thousands of ships on their registers to ensure they comply with U.S. sanctions that were re-imposed against Iran last year and tightened further since.

A Reuters analysis of shipping registry data shows that Panama has de-listed around 55 Iranian tankers since January, Togo has de-listed at least three and Sierra Leone one.

That represents the majority of its operational fleet of tankers, the lifeblood of the oil-dominated economy, although Iran may have re-registered some ships under new flag states.

When a vessel loses its flag, it typically loses insurance cover if it does not immediately find an alternative, and may be barred from calling at ports. Flags of convenience also provide a layer of cover for a vessel’s ultimate owner.

International registries charge fees to ship owners to use their flags and offer tax incentives to attract business.

Iran said it still had plenty of options.

“There are so many shipping companies that we can use. In spite of U.S. pressure, many friendly countries are happy to help us and have offered to help us regarding this issue,” said an Iranian shipping official, when asked about tankers being de-listed.

Some nations have expressed caution, however. The world’s third-biggest shipping registry, Liberia, said its database automatically identified vessels with Iranian ownership or other connections to the country.

“Thus, any potential request to register a vessel with Iranian connection triggers an alert and gets carefully vetted by the Registry’s compliance and management personnel,” the registry said.

Liberia said it was working closely with U.S. authorities to prevent what it called “malign activity” in maritime trade.

IRANIAN FLAG

In many cases Iran has re-listed ships under its own flag, complicating efforts to move oil and other goods to and from the dwindling number of countries willing to do business with it.

Some shipping specialists said the Iranian flag was problematic because individuals working for the registry in Iran could be designated under U.S. sanctions, and so present a risk for anyone dealing with vessels listed by them.

“Most insurance companies or banks will not be able to deal with the Iranian flag as it is in effect dealing with the Iranian state,” said Mike Salthouse, deputy global director with ship insurer the North of England P&I.

Customs officials may also sit up and take notice.

“One of the problems with an Iranian-flagged ship is that there is a 50 percent chance that a customs officer will undertake a search, which means the cargo will be delayed,” said a U.N. sanctions investigator, who declined to be named. “These all add to the costs.”

A former U.S. diplomat said Washington was often in contact with Panama and other flag states to keep vessel registries “clean”.

“We are continuing to disrupt the Qods Force’s illicit shipments of oil, which benefit terrorist groups like Hezbollah as well as the Assad regime (in Syria),” said a spokesman at the U.S. State Department.

Qods Force refers to an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that is in charge of the Guards’ overseas operations, and Hezbollah is an Iran-backed, heavily armed Shi’ite Muslim group that forms part of Lebanon’s coalition government.

“Nearly 80 tankers involved in sanctionable activity have been denied the flags they need to sail,” the spokesman added.

FALSE FLAGS

De-flagging Iranian ships is just one way the international community can squeeze Iran.

U.S. sanctions on oil exports aim to reduce Iran’s sales to zero. Iran has vowed to continue exporting.

In the first three weeks of June Iran exported around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), a fraction of the 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped before President Donald Trump’s exit in May last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Egypt could also complicate life for Tehran if it denies passage to tankers heading to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. The alternative route around Africa, taken by Grace 1 before its seizure, is far longer.

Refinitiv shipping data showed the Masal, an Iranian-flagged oil tanker, anchored in the Suez Canal’s waiting zone on July 6. It stayed there until July 12, when it began to sail south. It exited the Red Sea on July 17 and docked at Larak Island, Iran on July 23.

Two Egyptian intelligence sources told Reuters that the tanker was halted in the Red Sea in July by authorities “without anyone knowing the reason”.

A second senior Iranian government official involved in shipping declined to comment when asked about the Masal.

The Suez Canal Authority’s spokesman said Egypt did not bar vessels from crossing the canal except in times of war, in accordance with the Constantinople Convention. He declined to comment further.

Britain tightened the screw when it seized the Grace 1 supertanker on July 4, accusing it of violating sanctions against Syria.

Two Iranian-flagged ships have been stranded for weeks at Brazilian ports due to a lack of fuel, which state-run oil firm Petrobras refuses to sell them due to U.S. sanctions. Two more Iranian ships in Brazil could also be left without enough fuel to sail home.

A recent incident off Pakistan’s coast last month points to the lengths Iran has gone to in order to keep trading.

The Iranian cargo carrier Hayan left from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on June 3 and set sail for Karachi on Pakistan’s coast, according to ship tracking data from maritime risk analysts Windward.

On June 7, it changed its name to Mehri II and its flag to that of Samoa, the data showed, as it made its way toward Karachi port.

Six days later, the vessel conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of its unknown cargo further up Pakistan’s coast.

The ship then returned home, changing its flag back to Iran and its name back to Hayan.

Imran Ul Haq, spokesman for the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, said they had no information when asked about the Iranian ship’s activity.

Iran has frequently used ship-to-ship transfers to move oil and oil products since U.S. sanctions were reimposed.

Shipping data also show that a separate Iranian-owned cargo ship, the Ya Haydar, has been sailing around the Gulf and reporting its flag as that of Samoa.

Samoa denies allowing Iran to register any ships under its flag.

“The said vessels Hayan or Ya Haydar are not, and have never been listed, nor registered on the Samoa’s registry of vessels,” said Anastacia Amoa-Stowers of the Maritime department at Samoa’s Ministry of Works, Transport & Infrastructure.

“Given there are currently no Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s registry, there is no action to de-list a vessel. Additionally, there has never been any Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s vessel registry – previously and at present.”

Amoa-Stowers said Samoa was a closed registry, meaning that any foreign vessel flying its flag was doing so illegally.

The second senior Iranian government official involved in shipping declined to comment when asked about the two vessels.

A spokeswoman with the International Maritime Organization said the UN’s shipping agency had received information from Samoa which has been circulated to member states.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, Edward McAllister in Dakar, Alphonso Toweh in Monrovia, John Zodzi in Lome, Praveen Menon in Wellington, Yousef Saba and Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

U.S. unsure about circumstances of tanker towed to Iran

FILE PHOTO: A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. officials say they are unsure whether an oil tanker towed into Iranian waters was seized by Iran or rescued after facing mechanical faults as Tehran asserts, creating a mystery at sea at a time of high tension in the Gulf.

The MT Riah disappeared from ship tracking maps when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14. Its last position was off the coast of the Iranian island of Qeshm in the strait.

Iran says it towed a vessel into its waters from the strait after the ship issued a distress call. Although Tehran did not name the vessel, the Riah is the only ship whose recorded movements appear likely to match that description.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it appeared that the tanker was in Iranian territorial waters, but it was not clear whether that was because Iran had seized it or rescued it.

The mystery comes at a time when Washington has called for greater security for ships in the Gulf.

Iran has threatened to retaliate for the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker accused of violating sanctions on Syria. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has branded the British action “piracy”.

The United States has also blamed Iran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf since May, which Tehran denies.

Shipping experts say U.S. sanctions on Iran intended to halt its oil exports have led to a rise in unusual tanker movements away from shipping lanes, with Iran seeking covert ways to export its oil. Increasingly, ships are switching off location transponders, transferring oil at sea and concealing their routes. Iran has also become more dependent on a fleet of aging ships, and some have had to be towed for emergency repairs.

Adding to the riddle of the missing ship was difficulty establishing who owns it, which no country or company has so far publicly claimed. Initial reports described it as Emirati. However, an Emirati official told Reuters the tanker was neither owned nor operated by the UAE.

The tanker’s registered manager is Prime Tankers in the UAE. That company told Reuters it had sold the tanker to another UAE-based company, Mouj al-Bahar. An employee at Mouj al-Bahar told Reuters that the firm did not own it but had been managing the vessel up to two months ago, and that it was now under the management of a company called KRB Petrochem. Reuters could not reach KRB Petrochem for comment.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Parisa Hafezi, Ghaida Ghantous and Alex Cornwell; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Peter Graff)

Britain says it fended off Iranian attempt to block its oil tanker

FILE PHOTO: A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

By William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – Three Iranian vessels tried to block a tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship, the British government said on Thursday, raising the stakes in a test of nerves between Tehran and the West.

Britain urged Iran to “de-escalate the situation in the region” after the British Heritage oil tanker operated by BP was approached. The incident took place exactly a week after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker, which London said was violating sanctions by bringing oil to Syria.

“HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away,” a British government spokesman said in a statement.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed as “worthless” the British allegation that Iran had sought to block the ship.

The incident followed President Donald Trump’s warning he would soon “substantially” increase U.S. sanctions on Iran as part of a drive to curb Iran’s nuclear program and force Tehran to change its regional behavior.

The United States blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil artery since mid-May, accusations Tehran rejects but which have raised fears the long-time foes could slip into direct military conflict.

They came as close as ever last month, when Iran shot down a U.S. drone and Trump ordered retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off minutes before impact.

“I’d expect the Iranians to continue to seek opportunities to harass and obstruct without sliding into war,” said Jon Alterman director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

The United States quit an agreement last year between Iran and world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for granting it access to world trade. Washington sharply tightened sanctions against Iran since May with the aim of bringing its oil exports to zero. Iran responded by stepping up production of enriched uranium beyond limits in the nuclear deal.

Washington’s European allies disagreed with Trump’s decision to quit the nuclear pact and have tried to appear neutral. But Britain stepped into the crisis when it seized the Iranian tanker Grace 1 last week. Although EU states have not followed Washington in imposing sanctions on Iran, they have sanctions in place that forbid selling oil to Iran’s ally Syria.

A senior Iranian military commander on Thursday said Britain and the United States would regret detaining the vessel. Other Iranian officials have made similar statements, and some figures have been quoted as threatening to retaliate against British shipping.

KEY SHIPPING LANE

U.S. sanctions have effectively driven Iran from mainstream oil markets, depriving it of its main source of revenue and of the benefits it was meant to receive from its nuclear deal. Iran says it will return to full compliance with the agreement only if sanctions are lifted and Washington rejoins the pact.

BP CEO Bob Dudley, asked about the situation in the Gulf at an event at London’s Chatham House on Wednesday evening, said: “We’ve got to be super careful about our ships”.

An escalation in the Strait of Hormuz, the main outlet for Middle East oil traded around the globe, could drive up crude prices.

Maritime security sources said Britain was aiming to protect shipping lanes but there was no formal policy of escorting all UK ships through the area. The Montrose was there to ensure the safe passage of UK flagged ships when needed, they added.

Ship tracking information from data firm Refinitiv shows four other UK registered tankers now in the Gulf.

Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive with the UK Chamber of Shipping trade association, told Reuters the situation was tense and called for a de-escalation.

“UK shipowners are in regular contact with the relevant authorities and agencies regarding the security situation in the region, and we are confident that the RN (Royal Navy) will provide the necessary support to their vessels,” he said.

Oman, which hosts a joint British military base and shares the Strait of Hormuz with Iran, did not immediately comment. It has mediated between Tehran and the West and also allows the British and U.S. navies to use its ports on the Arabian Sea.

The United States is hoping to enlist allies in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday.

Britain, France and Germany have sought to avoid being dragged into U.S. sanctions but say Iran must return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal they were instrumental in brokering.

They have so far avoided triggering a dispute resolution process contained in the deal. Iran says it could take new steps in the next two months, including restarting dismantled centrifuges and purifying uranium to a sharply higher threshold, unless it is allowed to resume normal oil sales.

Francois Lecointre, the French armed forces chief, described the friction between the United States and Iran as a “clash of wills”.

“I think it is under control now… I don’t think it can spiral out of control but there can be escalation,” he told CNews television.

(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Jonathan Saul in London, Sylvia Westall and Aziz El-Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Jon Boyle and Peter Graff)

Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure

A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

By Parisa Hafezi

LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened on Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker by Royal Marines in Gibraltar.

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Mohsen Rezai said on Twitter.

The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.

British Royal Marines abseiled onto the ship off the coast of the British territory on Thursday and seized it over accusations it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria. They landed a helicopter on the moving vessel in pitch darkness.

The move escalates a confrontation between Iran and the West just weeks after the United States called off air strikes minutes before impact, and draws Washington’s close ally into a crisis in which European powers had striven to appear neutral.

Tehran summoned the British ambassador on Thursday to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship, a move that also eliminated doubt about the ownership of the vessel.

THIN LINE

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the crude oil cargo was from Iran. The ship’s paperwork had said the oil was from neighboring Iraq, but tracking data reviewed by Reuters suggested it had loaded at an Iranian port.

European countries have walked a thin line since last year when the United States ignored their pleas and pulled out of a pact between Iran and world powers that gave Tehran access to global trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Over the past two months, Washington has sharply tightened sanctions against Tehran with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether. The moves have largely driven Iran from mainstream markets and forced it to find unconventional ways to sell crude.

The confrontation has taken on a military dimension in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Iran of attacking ships in the Gulf and Iran shooting down a U.S. drone. President Donald Trump ordered, then canceled, retaliatory strikes.

With nuclear diplomacy at the heart of the crisis, Iran announced this week it had amassed more fissile material than allowed under its deal, and said it would purify uranium to a higher degree than permitted from July 7.

The Grace 1 was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing the long way around Africa from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean, a route that demonstrates the unusual steps Iran appears to be taking to try to keep some exports flowing.

“WARNING THE IRANIANS”

The Gibraltar spokesman said the 28-member crew, who have remained on board the supertanker, were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. Police and customs officials remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation, but the Royal Marines were no longer present.

While the European Union has not followed the United States in imposing broad sanctions against Iran, it has had measures in place since 2011 that prohibit sales of oil to Syria.

Gibraltar said on Friday it had obtained an order extending the detention of the supertanker by 14 days because there were grounds to believe it was breaking sanctions by taking crude oil to Syria.

Shipping experts say it may have been avoiding the more direct route through the Suez Canal, where a big tanker would typically be required to unload part of its cargo into a pipeline to cross, potentially exposing it to seizure.

Olivier Dorgans, an economic sanctions expert at Hughes Hubbard & Reed law firm in Paris, said the British move appeared intended to send a warning to the Iranians that if they pushed on with their nuclear breaches, European countries would act:

“This was done for political effect. The British are warning the Iranians.”

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Ten sailors missing after U.S. warship, tanker collide near Singapore

Damage is seen on the U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters in this still frame taken from video August 21, 2017.

By Fathin Ungku and Masayuki Kitano

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Ten sailors are missing after a U.S. warship collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore before dawn on Monday, tearing a hole beneath the waterline and flooding compartments that include a crew sleeping area, the U.S. Navy said.

The collision between the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC was the second involving a U.S. Navy destroyer and a merchant vessels in Asian waters in little more than two months.

The ships collided while the U.S. warship was heading to Singapore for a routine port call, the Navy said in a statement.

“Initial reports indicate John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft,” the Navy said. “There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured.”

The destroyer had made its way to Singapore’s Changi Naval Base by Monday afternoon under its own power.

Significant damage to the hull had resulted in flooding to compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms, the Navy said, but crew members were able to stop the flooding.

A map shows the location where the Alnic MC merchant vessel came to a halt after a collision with the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain east of Singapore August 21, 2017. REUTERS

A map shows the location where the Alnic MC merchant vessel came to a halt after a collision with the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain east of Singapore August 21, 2017. REUTERS

Four of the injured were taken by helicopter to hospital in Singapore with non-life threatening injuries. The fifth needed no further treatment.

The USS John S. McCain’s sister ship, the USS Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after it was struck by a Philippine container ship on June 17. The bodies of seven USS Fitzgerald sailors were found in a flooded berthing area.

Collisions between warships and other large vessels are extremely rare, with naval historians going back more than 50 years to find a similar incident.

A search-and-rescue mission was under way for the sailors missing from the USS John S. McCain involving Singaporean ships, helicopters and tugs, as well as U.S. Navy aircraft.

Reuters video footage from the Singapore Strait showed an area of impact about 6 meters (20 ft) wide in the John S. McCain’s port side.

The U.S. Navy later said amphibious assault ship USS America had arrived to provide messing and berthing for crew of the USS John S. McCain. It would also provide support for the search of the missing and divers to assess the damage.

 

TERRITORIAL DISPUTE

A crew member on the Alnic MC told Reuters by telephone there was no oil spill from the Liberian-flagged, 183 meter-long (600 ft) tanker, which was carrying almost 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Taiwan to discharge in Singapore.

“We have not discharged the tanker yet,” said the crew member, who asked not to be identified.

“We are proceeding to Raffles Reserved Anchorage, where the owners will investigate the matter. There was some damage to the valve but no oil spill.”

Stealth Maritime Corporation, the Greece-based owner of the tanker, said the vessel was moving to safe anchorage for assessment. Reuters later saw the Alnic MC anchored off Singapore.

Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said no injuries were reported on the Alnic, which suffered some damage above the waterline.

“There is no report of oil pollution and traffic in the Singapore Strait is unaffected,” the MPA said, adding that the collision happened in Singaporean territorial waters.

However, the Malaysian navy said the collision happened in Malaysian waters and it had sent vessels to assist.

The Pedra Branca area near where the collision happened has long been contested by both countries, with an international court ruling in Singapore’s favor in 2008. Malaysia filed an application to review that ruling this year.

“The Malaysian agencies are not involved in the search and rescue operations that is led by Singapore,” the MPA said.

The U.S. Navy said Malaysian navy vessels and a helicopter joined the search in the afternoon. Indonesia said it had sent two aircraft and two warships to help.

The waterways around Singapore are some of the busiest and most important in the world, carrying about a third of global shipping trade.

Ben Stewart, commercial manager of Maritime Asset Security and Training in Singapore, said early indications suggested the warship may have turned across the front of the tanker.

“Instances like this should be rare and they are rare,” Stewart said.

The U.S. Navy said last week it had removed the two senior officers and the senior enlisted sailor on the USS Fitzgerald following an investigation into that collision.

 

SISTER SHIPS

The USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, built in the same shipyard, are both ballistic missile defense (BMD) capable ships and part of the same Japan-based destroyer squadron. The Seventh Fleet has six ships assigned to BMD patrols, with half on patrol at any time.

The accidents come at a tense time.

The USS John S. McCain carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea this month, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China.

The operation was the latest to counter what the United States sees as China’s efforts to control the waters. China denounced it.

North Korea threatened last week to fire ballistic missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would unleash “fire and fury” if North Korea threatened the United States.

“Thoughts &; prayers are w/ our US Navy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway,” Trump said on Twitter.

The U.S. vessel involved in the latest collision is named for the father and grandfather of U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, who were both admirals.

Senator McCain, a Vietnam War naval pilot who was shot down and held prisoner for five-and-a-half years, is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

“Cindy  and I are keeping America’s sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight – appreciate the work of search and rescue crews,” he said on Twitter, referring to his wife.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Fathin Ungku and Masayuki Kitano; Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein and Jessica Jaganathan, Aradhana Aravindan, Karishma Singh and Sam Holmes in SINGAPORE, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff in KUALA LUMPUR, Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA, and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)