Navy Ship Collisions: Whether US "Freedom of Navigation" sustainable?

China Military Online
Zhang Tao
Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, is speaking at a press conference in the Changi naval base, Singapore, on August 22. (Photo by Xinhua News Agency)

BEIJING, Aug 25 (ChinaMil) -- Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said on August 22 that they have found the bodies of some missing sailors in the damaged cabins of the USS John S McCain guided-missile destroyer.

Another record?

At the press conference in Singapore, Swift said frogmen dived into the damaged cabin and found several human remains, and the Malaysian navy that was searching in the concerned sea area also found a body, which waited to be confirmed whether it's one of the missing sailors. The Malaysian navy said the body was found about eight nautical miles northwest of the location of collision that afternoon.

The search and rescue will continue until it's determined that no more sailors can be found, added Swift.

The USS John S McCain collided with a 30,000-ton-class oil tanker in waters east of Singapore on the morning of August 21. Ten sailors went missing and three were injured.

The collision left major damage to the port side of this Aegis destroyer and some cabins were flooded, including dorm cabins of sailors.

If all the ten missing sailors were confirmed dead, the collision this time would be the single event that killed the most American sailors since 2000.

On June 17, the destroyer Fitzgerald of the Seventh Fleet collided with a cargo ship off Japan. Seven sailors died and three, including the captain, were injured.

On October 12, 2000, the USS Cole destroyer was attacked by a small boat fully loaded with high explosives, while in port in Aden, Yemen, for refueling. Seventeen U.S. marines died and twenty eight were injured.

In addition to the serious collision of USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald, two cruisers of the Pacific fleet also collided with a fishing boat and hit the reef respectively early this year, one on the Korean Peninsula and the other in waters off Japan.

The photo shows the damaged hull of the USS McCain. (Photo by Xinhua News Agency)


The reasons for the collision of USS McCain are to be investigated. Some American media said that its operating system might be hacked, which disabled it from avoiding the collision.

CNN quoted a naval officer as saying that USS McCain's operating system failed at one point before the collision, but the report didn't give more details.

The McClatchy Company reported on August 21 that according to a former information warfare expert in the U.S. Navy and a satellite navigation expert, USS McCain might be hacked.

Adm. John Richardson, chief of U.S. Naval Operations, announced on August 21 that they will launch a large-scale investigation in the navy, and all fleets will suspend their operations for one or two days to discuss how to carry out operations safely and effectively.

Moreover, the Seventh Fleet will be investigated, covering equipment maintenance, vessel navigation, personnel training and qualification.

Regarding the hacking of U.S. vessel, Richardson said everything is possible, but there is currently no sign to indicate that the collision was intentional or the vessel operating system was damaged or hacked.

Swift echoed this view on August 22, adding that the four collision or stranding events mentioned above shouldn't be viewed as "individual cases". The investigation will look for common and fundamental reasons for those events, and figure out how to solve them.

No fatigue driving

The Navy sailors killed or missing after the collision of the USS John S. McCain with a merchant ship on Aug. 21, 2017. Clockwise, from top left: Charles Findley, Abraham Lopez, Kevin Bushell, Jacob Drake, Timothy Eckels Jr., Kenneth Smith, Dustin Doyon, John Hoagland III, Logan Palmer. Not pictured: Corey Ingram. (Photo from the U.S. Navy)

In the opinion of many experts, the reasons for the continuous collisions of U.S. vessels lie in themselves, either training, or negligence, or fatigue driving.

"The U.S. Navy has been carrying out a lot of activities in the South Pacific, which leads to the question that whether the troops are able to carry out so many activities in so many regions. The sailors are most likely fatigued. If I was an investigator, I would ask whether such a tempo of operation is sustainable," a maritime defense expert from British Jane's Defence Weekly, a famous defense media, told AP.

Andrew Lambert, a professor of naval history at the King's College London, held that the collision might be caused by the "command culture" of American navy. "It has been the largest and strongest navy for several decades, which makes it arrogant, and that's not a good thing on the sea," he added.

According to Lambert, the collision of USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald are similar in that they both collided with gigantic merchant ships, which are huge targets on the radar screen and are impossible not to be detected. "There are only two explanations if you didn't notice such a large ship - the radar was off, or you weren't looking at the radar at all."

Days before the collision of USS McCain, the U.S. military punished a number of officers on the USS Fitzgerald destroyer, determining that its collision happened because the captain "lacked leadership" and the sailors "had poor navigational skills and made mistakes when keeping watch".



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