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)

 

An hour passed before Japan authorities were notified of Fitzgerald collision

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is seen at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan,

By Tim Kelly and Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – Nearly an hour elapsed before a Philippine-flagged container ship reported a collision with a U.S. warship, the Japanese coastguard said on Monday, as investigations began into the accident in which seven U.S. sailors were killed.

The U.S. Navy confirmed that all seven missing sailors on the USS Fitzgerald were found dead in flooded berthing compartments after the destroyer’s collision with the container ship off Japan early on Saturday.

The Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged container ship collided south of Tokyo Bay early on Saturday. The cause of the collision is not known.

Multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations are under way on how a ship as large as the container could collide with the smaller warship in clear weather.

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the ACX Crystal, chartered by Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK, made a complete U-turn between 12:58 a.m. and 2:46 a.m. on June 17. (11.58 a.m. ET and 1.46 p.m. ET).

The collision happened at around 1:30 a.m. but it was not until 2:25 a.m. that the container ship informed the Japanese coastguard of the accident, said coastguard spokesman Takeshi Aikawa told Reuters.

He declined to elaborate on why the ship took nearly an hour to report the accident but said it could take ships time to notify authorities as they dealt with more urgent matters.

Right after being notified of he accident by the container vessel, the Japanese coastguard made contact with the U.S. ship and confirmed it, Aikawa said.

A significant portion of the crew on the U.S. ship was asleep when the collision occurred, tearing a gash under the warship’s waterline and flooding two crew compartments, the radio room and the auxiliary machine room.

A large dent was clearly visible in its right mid-section as the destroyer limped back to Yokosuka naval base south of Tokyo, home of the Seventh fleet, on Saturday evening.

A combination photo of the dead sailors identified by the U.S. Navy in the collision incident between U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald and Philippine-flagged merchant vessel south of Tokyo Bay on June 17, 2017. Top row (L-R) Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, CA; Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, VA; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, CT; and Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, CA. Bottom row (L-R) Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., from Elyria, OH; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, MD; and Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, TX.

A combination photo of the dead sailors identified by the U.S. Navy in the collision incident between U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald and Philippine-flagged merchant vessel south of Tokyo Bay on June 17, 2017. Top row (L-R) Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, CA; Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, VA; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, CT; and Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, CA. Bottom row (L-R) Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., from Elyria, OH; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, MD; and Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, TX. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

 

The U.S. Navy on Monday identified the dead sailors as: Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia; Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California; Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut; Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California; Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland; and Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio.

Two of three injured crew members who were evacuated from the ship by helicopter, including the ship’s commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, were released from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet said on its Facebook page on Monday. The last sailor remained in hospital and no details were given about his condition.

Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, the Seventh Fleet commander, was asked on Sunday if damage on the starboard side indicated the U.S. ship could have been at fault, but he declined to speculate on the cause of the collision. Maritime rules suggest vessels are supposed to give way to ships on their starboard.

Japanese authorities were looking into the possibility of “endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence”, Japanese media reported, but it was not clear whether that might apply to either or both of the vessels.

Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was investigating with the cooperation of the U.S. side and every effort would be made to maintain regional deterrence in the face of North Korea, which has recently conducted a series of missile tests.

“It is extremely important to maintain U.S. deterrence in the light of an increasingly severe regional security situation,” he told a news conference.

“We will maintain close contact with international society, including the United States and South Korea, to maintain vigilance and protect the safety of our people.”

The incident has sparked as many as three investigations by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, and two by Japanese authorities.

Complicating the inquiries could be issues of which side has jurisdiction and access to data such as radar records that the United States could deem classified.

Although the collision occurred in Japanese waters, under a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that defines the scope of the U.S. military’s authority in Japan, the U.S. Navy could claim it has the authority to lead the investigations.

The three U.S. investigations include a JAGMAN command investigation often used to look into the cause of major incidents, which can be used as a basis to file lawsuits against the Navy.

“We will coordinate with Japanese authorities on investigations and will address specific requests for access in accordance with normal procedures,” a Navy spokesman said.

The ship is salvageable, Aucoin said, but repairs would likely take months.

This incident was the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen’s Aden harbor in 2000, when 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured.

Naval historians recall possibly the last time a warship was hit by a larger vessel in peacetime was in 1964 off the coast of Australia. The HMAS Melbourne, an aircraft carrier, collided with the destroyer HMAS Voyager, shearing the much smaller vessel in half and killing 82 of the Voyager’s crew.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly, Kaori Kaneko, Elaine Lies, Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Michael Perry)