Sea search for missing US warship sailors suspended
An international search at sea for American sailors missing after their warship collided with a tanker off Singapore was suspended Thursday, with divers set to continue recovery efforts inside the destroyer, the US Navy said.
Remains found in a flooded compartment of the USS John S. McCain, which was left with a gaping hole in its hull, were identified as Kenneth Aaron Smith but nine other sailors remain unaccounted for.
The pre-dawn collision on Monday, which also left five sailors injured, was the second such deadly accident in two months after a US destroyer collided with a cargo ship off Japan in June.
There have been a total of four accidents involving American warships in the Pacific this year, sparking concerns the US Navy is overstretched as it tackles China’s growing assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The latest accident prompted the navy to begin a global investigation and remove the commander of the Japan-headquartered Seventh Fleet, the centrepiece of the US military presence in Asia.
Announcing the latest development, the Seventh Fleet said in a statement: “After more than 80 hours of multinational search efforts, the US Navy suspended search and rescue efforts for missing USS John S. McCain sailors” in a massive area at sea.
US Navy divers “will continue search and recovery efforts inside flooded compartments in the ship for the missing sailors”, it said.
– Multinational search –
Singapore also confirmed the search efforts were suspended.
They had involved ships, aircraft and divers from Singapore, the US, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, covering a vast area east of the city-state.
“We would like to express our condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased US Navy crew, and wish the injured crew speedy recovery,” said Andrew Tan, chief executive of Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority.
The nine sailors still missing are aged between 20 and 39.
The Malaysian navy had found a body during search operations a considerable distance from the crash site but US authorities said earlier Thursday it was not one of the missing sailors.
The collision happened in busy shipping lanes near the Singapore Strait as the destroyer headed for a routine stop in the city-state following a “freedom of navigation operation” in the disputed South China Sea that had angered Beijing.
On Monday the Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson ordered commanders within a week to set aside time, perhaps “one or two days,” for crews to sit down together for discussions.
A “comprehensive review” of practices would also begin.
The damaged vessel is named after US Senator John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both admirals in the US navy.
The tanker involved in the collision, which was used for transporting oil and chemicals and weighed over 30,000 gross tonnes, sustained some damage but no crew were injured and it did not leak oil.
In the June incident, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship in a busy channel not far from Yokosuka, a gateway to container ports in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama, leaving seven sailors dead.