US fleet commander dismissed after Pacific warship collisions
The commander of the US Navy’s Asia-based 7th Fleet has been dismissed after a series of warship accidents raised questions about its operations in the Pacific.
A two-sentence statement issued by the Navy said Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, had relieved Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command”.
The move follows four Navy accidents in the Pacific since late January, including two collisions that left sailors dead and missing.
“While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation,” Admiral Swift said late on Tuesday.
He said the Navy will carry out a “deliberate re-set” of all its ships in the Pacific, focused on navigation, mechanical systems and bridge resource management.
It will include training and an expert assessment of each ship.
The Navy said that Rear Admiral Phillip Sawyer, who had already been named as Vice Admiral Aucoin’s successor, would assume command immediately.
Seven sailors died in June when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off Japan.
On Monday, the destroyer USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided off Singapore, injuring five sailors and leaving 10 others missing.
Admiral Swift, speaking at a news conference in Singapore where the McCain is now docked, said Navy divers had found remains of some of the missing in a flooded compartment in the ship.
He also said Malaysians assisting in the search had found a body, but it had not been determined if it was a McCain crew member.
At least three of the 10 missing sailors have been identified by relatives.
Crew member Logan Palmer is from the Decatur, Illinois, area and his mother identified him as missing, US Representative Rodney Davis said.
April Brandon in Michigan said the military informed her that her son Ken Smith is missing.
She said her son’s father, stepmother and grandfather served in the Navy.
Ms Brandon said: “His father and I couldn’t be prouder of our son.”
The family of Jacob Drake of Ohio was told he was among the missing, the Columbus Dispatched reported.
Megan Partlow told The Associated Press that Mr Drake was her fiance and she had last had contact with him on Sunday in a text message.
The collision at daybreak in a busy shipping area tore a gaping hole in the McCain’s left rear hull and flooded adjacent compartments including crew berths and machinery and communication rooms.
The cause of the collision has not been determined. The Navy previously said there was no evidence it was intentional, or that it was a result of sabotage or cyberintrusion.
The Navy last week said the Fitzgerald’s captain was being relieved of his command and other sailors were being punished after poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch were found to have contributed to its collision.
An investigation into how and why the Fitzgerald collided with the other ship was not finished, but enough details were known to take those actions, the Navy said.
There were two lesser-known incidents in the first half of the year.
In January, the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser ran aground near Yokosuka base, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and in May another cruiser, the USS Lake Champlain from the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, had a minor collision with a South Korean fishing boat.