Navy fires fleet commander after string of ship collisions
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the United States Seventh Fleet, has been relieved of his command by Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific Fleet. The firing comes within days of a collision between the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and a civilian tanker east of the Straits of Malacca that left 10 sailors missing.
According to a brief Navy release, Aucoin was relieved by Swift due to “a loss of confidence in his ability to command.” The release went on to say that Aucoin’s planned successor, Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, will assume command immediately. Sawyer was confirmed to the rank of vice admiral and appointed commander of the Seventh Fleet on June 5 of this year, according to the Congressional Record.
An earlier release by the Navy indicates the bodies of some of the missing sailors had been found.
Since May, there had been three collisions involving vessels in the Seventh Fleet. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) collided with a South Korean fishing boat on May 9, with no casualties involved.
On June 17, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was rammed by a container ship off Japan. Seven sailors were killed, and a number of others, including the ship’s captain, were injured in the incident. The captain, executive officer, and command master chief on that vessel were all relieved and will face non-judicial punishment.
According to an official biography, Vice Adm. Aucoin’s Navy career included service in five aviation squadrons, command of the aircraft carrier USS Kittyhawk (CV 63), and over 150 combat missions. His awards include the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat Distinguishing Device.
Rear Adm. Sawyer, who will replace Aucoin, is a career submariner whose service included command of USS La Jolla (SSN 701) and Submarine Squadron 15. Prior to taking command of the 7th Fleet, Sawyer served as deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet.