A search and rescue operation is underway for 10 US sailors after a US warship collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore on Monday morning. This is the second accident involving US Navy destroyers in within only a few months.
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC east of Singapore for a routine port call, the Navy said in a statement.
Initial reports indicate the USS destroyer sustained damage to the port side aft, “There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured,” according to a Navy statement.
A search-and-rescue mission was under way involving Singaporean ships, helicopters and tug boats, as well as US Navy aircraft.
“Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway,” Donald Trump tweeted as operations continued.
The warship was sailing under its own power and heading to port, the Navy said. The Alnic MC is a Liberian-flagged, 183 metre-long oil or chemical tanker of 50,760 deadweight tonnes, according to shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon.
Five US sailors were injured in the collision—four were evacuated by helicopter to the Singapore General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, while the fifth did not need further medical attention, according to statements reported by the Navy.
The USS John S McCain is seen after a collision in Singapore waters on Aug 21, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Masood)
No crew members on the oil tanker were injured, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).
Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen confirmed the collision in a Facebook post, which he said happened in Singapore’s territorial waters.
The MPA is leading the search and rescue operation, Dr Ng said, adding that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has also been mobilized after it responded to the US Navy’s request for assistance from the Republic of Singapore Navy.
“From the SAF, two Patrol Vessels, RSS Gallant and RSS Resilience; one Frigate, RSS Intrepid; two Super Pumas and one Chinook helicopter are assisting in the efforts. RSN’s RSS Resilience is currently escorting USS John S McCain back to Changi Naval Base,” he said.
In Facebook posts on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan said that their thoughts are with the families of those missing and injured in the collision.
According to an Alnic crew member, the tanker was carrying nearly 12,000 tons of fuel oil from Taiwan to discharge in Singapore.
“We have not discharged the tanker yet,” the crew member who did not want to be identified, told Reuters via telephone.
“We are proceeding to Raffles Reserved Anchorage where the owners will investigate the matter. There was some damage to the valve.”
Shipping data showed Alnic last sent a transponder signal at 6.58am. The ship data showed it was “ballasting”, meaning that it was not loaded full of oil for cargo.
According to VesselsValue, which provides shipping and maritime data, the Alnic is owned by a Greek company Brave Maritime and is reportedly worth US$17.36 million (S$23.6 million).
Shipping data showed it last sent a transponder signal at 2258 GMT Sunday and has since come to a halt 6-12 miles off the east coast of the Pengerang peninsula in Johor, southern Malaysia. The ship data showed it was “ballasting”, meaning that it was not loaded full of oil for cargo.
The waterways around Singapore are some of the busiest and most important in the world, carrying around a quarter of the world’s trade in goods and oil.
The US Navy said last week it had removed the two senior officers and the senior enlisted sailor on a warship that almost sank off the coast of Japan in June after it was struck by a Philippine container ship.
That collision killed seven US sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer the USS Fitzgerald.
The USS Fitzgerald and USS John S McCain are both ballistic missile defense (BMD) capable ships and part of the same Japan-based destroyer squadron. The Seventh Fleet has six ships assigned to BMD patrols, with half of those out on patrol at any one time.
Asked whether the US Navy would need to bring forward other ships to maintain its strength, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet said it was “way too early to know”.
The vessel involved in the latest collision is named for the father and grandfather of US Republican Senator John McCain, who were both admirals in the United States Navy.
“Cindy & I are keeping America’s sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight – appreciate the work of search & rescue crews,” Senator McCain said on Twitter.
Senator McCain is a Vietnam War-era naval aviator who was shot down and held prisoner for five-and-a-half years. He is now undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
Singaporean, Malaysian and US search and rescue teams, consisting of patrol ships, helicopters and tug boats, were deployed to the area to look for the missing crew.
The US navy said the warship had “sustained damage to her port side aft” in the collision with the Alnic MC east of the straits of Malacca and Singapore. The breach “resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms,” the Navy added.