SINGAPORE—U.S. Navy and Marine Corps divers searched for 10 missing sailors in sealed sections of a U.S. guided-missile destroyer on Tuesday after it collided with a merchant vessel near Singapore, the U.S. Navy said.
The USS John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided on Monday while the U.S. ship was nearing Singapore on a routine port call. The impact tore a hole in the warship’s port side at the waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area.
Ships, aircraft and divers from an international search-and-rescue operation were looking for the missing U.S. sailors to the east of Singapore and peninsula Malaysia, near to where the accident happened.
The collision—the fourth major accident in the U.S. Pacific fleet this year – prompted a fleet-wide investigation and plans for temporary halts in operations.
The U.S. Seventh Fleet said in a statement that divers equipped with surface-supplied air rigs would access sealed compartments in damaged parts of the ship, which is now docked in Singapore.
“Additionally, they will conduct damage assessments of the hull and flooded areas,” the statement said.
Immediate efforts by the ship’s crew after the collision on Monday were able to halt flooding into other parts of the hull, the statement said.
CNN, citing unidentified U.S. Navy officials, said early indications suggested the collision was caused by a steering malfunction as the warship approached the Strait of Malacca. A U.S. Navy spokesman contacted by Reuters could not immediately comment on the report.
The U.S. Navy said in a statement late on Monday that aircraft from the amphibious assault ship the USS America, which was in port at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, would continue searching for the missing sailors.
They joined aircraft and vessels from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia already searching in the area.
Hole in Hull
A public affairs officer for the U.S. Seventh Fleet told Reuters the USS John S. McCain was moored at Changi Naval Base and that a repair plan would be put in place after assessments were complete.
Admiral Scott Swift, who serves as the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and was scheduled to arrive in Singapore on Tuesday.
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said it had deployed 250 personnel for the search-and-rescue effort over an area of 2,620 square kilometers. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said it had deployed more than 500.
Video footage and still pictures showed that the collision had ripped a wide hole in the warship’s aft port side.
Five sailors were also injured in the accident, although the U.S. Navy said none of those injuries was life-threatening.
On Monday, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said there were no indications so far the collision was intentional or the result of cyber intrusion or sabotage.
“But review will consider all possibilities,” he said on Twitter.
Richardson said he was asking his fleet commanders worldwide for a one-to-two-day, staggered “operational pause” to discuss action to ensure safe and effective operations.
He also said a comprehensive review would examine the training of U.S. forces deployed to Japan. The U.S. Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Japan.
Monday’s accident comes at a tense time for the U.S. Navy in Asia. This month, the John S. McCain sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the disputed South China Sea, the latest “freedom of navigation” operation to counter what the United States sees as China’s efforts to control the waters.
The state-run China Daily said in an editorial that increased activities by U.S. warships in Asia-Pacific were a growing risk to commercial shipping.
Also this month, North Korea threatened to fire ballistic missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam in a standoff over its nuclear and missile programs.
By Karishma Singh and Fathin Ungku