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.

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin. (US Navy photo)

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.

Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer (US Navy photo)

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.

american japanese destroyers

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), foreground, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) transit the Philippine Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers)

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.

The damaged USS Fitzgerald returns to the fleet activites center at Yokosuka, Japan, after being struck by a merchant vessel in the Pacific Ocean

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart)

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.