Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson on Monday ordered an operational pause in all U.S. fleets around the world following the second collision between an Aegis Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and a civilian ship within three months.

Richardson said in a statement that between these collisions and a series of incidents in the Pacific theater, “this trend demands more forceful action” with the operational pause meant to have U.S. fleet commanders “get together with their leaders and their commands to ensure that we’re taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world.”

Visible damage to the USS John S. McCain’s (DDG-56) port side following a collision with the Alnic MC near the Straights of Malacca and Singapore. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released.
Visible damage to the USS John S. McCain’s (DDG-56) port side following a collision with the Alnic MC near the Straights of Malacca and Singapore. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released.

This comes less than a day after the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer collided with the 30,000-ton 600-foot long Alnic MC east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21. The Alnic MC is a Liberian-registered oil and chemical tanker

The collision was reported at 6:24 a.m. Japan Standard Time as the McCain was headed for a port visit in Singapore. At our deadline Monday evening, there were 10 sailors missing from DDG-56 and five more injured. Four of the injured were medically evacuated by a Singapore Armed Forces helicopter to a Singapore hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer thanked all those who are helping with the McCain, especially the Republic of Singapore Navy. Search and rescue for the missing crew members is underway and assistance was provided by Republic of Singapore Navy Fearless-class patrol ships, a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel; three Royal Malaysian Navy ships; as well as MV-22 Ospreys and SH-60 Seahawks from the USS America (LHA-6) amphibious assault ship.

“The United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this incident and I ask all of you to keep the families of John S. McCain in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us,” Spencer said in a statement.

Early reports indicate the McCain sustained damage to the port side aft but was able to sail under its own power to port at Changi Naval Base in Singapore. The Navy said hull damage flooded nearby compartments including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms but damage control by the crew stopped additional flooding.

The USS America sailed to Singapore and moored across the pier from the McCain to provide messing, berthing services, support damage control efforts, and support search and rescue for the missing sailors.

In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant container ship near Yokosuka, Japan causing severe damage to this naval vessel and the death of seven crew members (Defense Daily, June 19). Both collisions occurred in particularly busy sea lanes during night hours.

Richardson said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, is on the way to Singapore “to take charge and to make sure that they have all the assistance that they need.”

In addition to the operational pause, Richardson is directing a comprehensive review to ensure the Navy discovers all of the contributing factors and root causes of these incidents in addition to the individual investigations looking into details of collisions with the Fitzgerald and McCain.

The CNO appointed Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, to lead that investigation.

“I will examine the process by which we train and certify our forces that are forward deployed in Japan to make sure that they are doing everything we can to make them ready for operations and warfighting,” Richardson said.

The comprehensive review will include looking at operational tempo; trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance, and equipment; and how the Navy trains and certifies the surface warfare community. This includes tactical and navigational proficiency, Richardson said.

The CNO said he wants to make as many Navy resources available to Davidson’s review as possible, including the Naval Inspector General, Naval Safety Center, and others.

The USS John S. McCain (DDG-56). Photo: U.S. Navy.
The USS John S. McCain (DDG-56). Photo: U.S. Navy.

“I want this to be a broad and diverse team including officers and enlisted from across the Navy and also people outside the Navy – the other services and the private sector. I want this team to be as diverse as they can be so that we don’t miss anything in our review,” Richardson said in a statement.

He noted the review will be on a “very tight timeline” with the CNO getting frequent updates because “this requires urgent action. We need to get to it and take corrective action.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that he agreed with Richardson that more action is needed “to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions. Our sailors who risk their lives every day, in combat and in training, deserve no less. I expect full transparency and accountability from the Navy leaders as they conduct the associated investigations and reviews.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, linked this to how the Marine Corps instituted a similar pause earlier this month after a set of fatal aircraft accidents (Defense Daily, Aug. 11).

“This is the fourth serious Naval accident this year. We ask a lot of our men and women in the Navy. The time they spend at sea is increasing, while their ships age and their funding gets cut. These are just the conditions that can lead to an increase in the kinds of accidents we are witnessing.”

“At a time of increasing threats, two military services have now had to take a knee to review safety and training procedures. That is unprecedented, and no way to protect America,” he added.

Thornberry said Congress must provide the Navy’s sailors with additional resources they need immediately. “To do any less, while these Sailors are doing so much for us, would be immoral.”