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The Navy has just ordered its fleet to suspend all operations in wake of McCain collision

The day after a collision between the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain (DDG 56) and a tanker in the Strait of Malacca east of Singapore, the Navy is ordering an operational pause.


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson announced the order on a Facebook video as search-and-rescue efforts for 10 missing sailors have been hampered by a storm.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the collision is the third since the beginning of May. That month, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) was struck by a South Korean fishing boat. On June 17 of this year, the McCain's sister ship, USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), collided with a container ship off Japan, killing seven sailors.

Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released)

"I want our fleet commanders to get together with their leaders and their commands to ensure that we are taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world," Richardson said, during his video announcement.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is supporting the investigation, noting that it will address "all factors, not just the immediate ones" surrounding the collisions. Senator John S. McCain of Arizona, the son and grandson of the Navy admirals for whom USS John S. McCain is named, stated that he expects "full transparency and accountability from the Navy" regarding the reviews and investigations.

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) man the rails while pulling into Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, during a Naval Engagement Activity with the people of Vietnam, Oct. 2.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Allen Michael McNair)

The John S. McCain has been notable for taking part in "freedom of navigation" exercises in the South China Sea this past November. Ironically, the ship suffered the collision with the tanker near an island that is the subject of a dispute between Singapore and Malaysia. A Singaporean helicopter airlifted four casualties off the McCain.

The Strait of Malacca is a notable maritime chokepoint, through which substantial merchant traffic travels, including oil imports for countries like China, Japan, and South Korea. Singapore served as a base for British forces for many years, enabling them to control that chokepoint, much as Gibraltar helps control the western entrance into the Mediterranean Sea.