By ANNABELLE LIANG and STEPHEN WRIGHT, Associated Press
SINGAPORE (AP) — Vessels from several nations are searching Southeast Asian waters for 10 missing U.S. sailors after an early morning collision Monday between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker ripped a gaping hole in the destroyer’s hull.
The collision east of Singapore between the guided missile destroyer and the 183-meter (600-foot) Alnic MC was the second involving a ship from the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months.
Vessels and aircraft from the U.S., Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are searching for the missing sailors. Four other sailors were evacuated by a Singaporean navy helicopter to a hospital in the city-state for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, the Navy said. A fifth was taken to the hospital by ambulance after the destroyer arrived in Singapore under its own power, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore said.
The McCain had been heading to Singapore on a routine port visit after conducting a sensitive freedom-of-navigation operation last week by sailing near one of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea.
The Navy’s 7th Fleet said “significant damage” to the McCain’s hull resulted in the flooding of adjacent compartments including crew berths, machinery and communications rooms. A damage control response prevented further flooding, it said.
The destroyer was damaged on its port side aft, or left rear, in the 5:24 a.m. collision about 4.5 nautical miles (8.3 kilometers) from Malaysia’s coast but was able to sail on to Singapore’s naval base. Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency said the area is at the start of a designated sea lane for ships sailing into the Singapore Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
A photo tweeted by Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin showed a large rupture in the McCain’s side near the waterline. Janes, a defense industry publication, estimated the hull breach was 3 meters (10 feet) wide.
Another U.S. naval vessel, the amphibious assault ship USS America, arrived in Singapore and was helping with damage control efforts on the McCain and with the search for the missing sailors, the Navy’s 7th Fleet said. It also will feed and house sailors from the stricken ship.
One of the injured sailors, Operations Specialist 2nd Class Navin Ramdhun, posted a Facebook message telling family and friends he was OK and awaiting surgery for an arm injury.
He told The Associated Press in a message that he couldn’t say what happened. “I was actually sleeping at that time. Not entirely sure.”
The Singapore government said no crew were injured on the Liberian-flagged Alnic, which sustained damage to a compartment at the front of the ship some 7 meters (23 feet) above its waterline. There were no reports of a chemical or oil spill.
Several safety violations were recorded for the tanker at its last port inspection in July.
Singapore sent tugboats and naval and coast guard vessels to search for the missing sailors and Indonesia said it sent two warships. Malaysia said three ships and five boats as well as aircraft from its navy and air force were helping with the search, and the USS America deployed Osprey aircraft and Seahawk helicopters. The Navy was also searching the McCain’s damaged interior.
There was no immediate explanation for the collision, and the Navy said an investigation would be conducted. Singapore, at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula, is one of the world’s busiest ports and a U.S. ally, with its naval base regularly visited by American warships.
The collision was the second involving a ship from the Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.
The Fitzgerald’s captain was relieved of his command and other sailors were being punished after the Navy found poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch contributed to the collision, the Navy announced last week. An investigation into how and why the Fitzgerald collided with the other ship was not finished, but enough details were known to take those actions, the Navy said.
The Greek owner of the tanker, Stealth Maritime Corp. S.A., replaced its website with a notice that says it is cooperating with the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore’s investigation and with “other responding agencies.” It says “thoughts and prayers are with the families of the missing U.S. Navy sailors.”
An official database for ports in Asia shows the Alnic was last inspected in the Chinese port of Dongying on July 29 and had one document deficiency, one fire safety deficiency and two safety of navigation problems.
The database doesn’t go into details and the problems were apparently not serious enough for the Liberian-flagged vessel to be detained by the port authority.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed concern for the McCain’s crew.
Trump returned to Washington on Sunday night from his New Jersey golf club. When reporters shouted questions to him about the McCain, he responded, “That’s too bad.”
About two hours later, Trump tweeted that “thoughts and prayers” are with the McCain’s sailors as search and rescue efforts continue.
The 154-meter (505-foot) destroyer is named after U.S. Sen. John McCain’s father and grandfather, who were both U.S. admirals. It’s based at the 7th Fleet’s homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. It was commissioned in 1994 and has a crew of 23 officers, 24 chief petty officers and 291 enlisted sailors, according the Navy’s website.
McCain said on Twitter that he and his wife, Cindy, are “keeping America’s sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight — appreciate the work of search & rescue crews.”
Wright reported from Bangkok. AP writers Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.