10 missing, 5 injured after US warship collides with tanker near Singapore

10 missing, 5 injured after US warship collides with tanker near Singapore
The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters August. Photo: Reuters
Published: 8:22 AM, August 21, 2017
Updated: 7:50 PM, August 21, 2017

SINGAPORE — A search and rescue operation for 10 missing US Navy sailors is underway near the Singapore Strait on Monday (Aug 21), hours after a US warship collided with a merchant vessel in the Republic's territorial waters.

Five sailors were also injured after the guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain collided with the oil and chemical tanker Alnic MC at 5.24am Singapore time, the US 7th Fleet Public Affairs said in a statement.

Four of the injured were medically evacuated by a Republic of Singapore Airforce Puma helicopter to Singapore General Hospital for non-life threatening injuries, while the fifth injured sailor did not require further medical attention.

The warship sustained damage to the left side of its hull, towards the rear, while the Alnic MC's front hull was damaged.

"Significant damage to the hull resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms," said the US 7th Fleet. "Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding."

No oil spills have been reported, and maritime traffic in the Singapore Strait is unaffected, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in a statement. Both vessels later sailed to Singapore for damage assessment.

Photos of the damaged USS John S McCain were released by the Royal Malaysian Navy at 9.45am, including a map which indicated that the collision may have taken place north of Pedra Branca.

Singapore is leading the search and rescue operations, and three Singapore Navy warships have been deployed to aid the USS John S McCain, which was transiting to a routine port visit in Singapore when the collision happened.

Besides the Republic of Singapore Navy Fearless-class patrol vessels RSS Gallant and RSS Resilience, the frigate RSS Intrepid, two Super Pumas and one Chinook helicopter, a Singapore Police Coast Guard vessel Basking Shark, and three tugboats were assisting the search-and-rescue operation.

The US Navy also sent its V-22 Osprey aircraft and Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters from the amphibious assault ship USS America to render assistance.

Assets from the Malaysian Navy, the Royal Malaysian Airforce and Malaysian Coast Guard were also involved with the search-and-rescue operations.

According to a marine traffic website, the Liberian-flagged Alnic MC was heading towards Singapore from Taiwan when the collision happened. At 6.58am, the merchant ship appeared to be at the mouth of the South China Sea, near Singapore.

(Click to enlarge) The Liberian-flagged Alnic MC was heading towards Singapore from Taiwan when the collision happened. At 6.58am, the merchant ship appeared to be at underway at the mouth of the South China Sea, sailing westwards towards Singapore. Image:

"Search and rescue efforts are underway in coordination with local authorities," the US Navy said, noting that the extent of damage and personnel injuries is still being determined.

USS John S McCain, which was escorted back to Singapore by RSS Resilience, reached Changi Naval Base after 2pm under its own power, nearly nine hours after the accident first happened.

"At this point, no fuel or oil is visible on the water’s surface near the ship," the US Navy added.

Measuring 154m long, the 9,000-tonne USS John S McCain is smaller than the 183m-long, 30,040-tonne Alnic MC.

A crew of the Alnic MC confirmed with Reuters over the phone that the merchant vessel was carrying nearly 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil when it collided with the warship.

"We are carrying 11,987 tonnes of fuel oil. There is no oil spill. We were carrying fuel oil from Taiwan to discharge to Singapore ... We are proceeding to Raffles Reserved Anchorage where the owners will investigate the matter. There was some damage to the valve," the crew member who did not want to be identified, told Reuters via telephone.

The MPA lists the Raffles Reserved Anchorage to the South of Bukom Island to be reserved for "vessels requiring emergency repairs and damaged vessels or as directed by the Port Master."

The USS John S McCain is based in Yokosuka, Japan. According to a 19 Aug Facebook post, the warship was last on patrol in the South China Sea in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

This is the latest collision between a US Navy warship and a merchant vessel in recent times.

On June 17, the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a freighter that killed seven people aboard the US ship, in what was one of the US Navy’s deadliest accidents in years. Two months later on Aug 17, the commanding officer, executive officer and coxswain of the USS Fitzgerald were relieved of their duties by the commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin.

"The collision was avoidable and both ships demonstrated poor seamanship," the US Seventh Fleet said, adding that the CO of USS Fitzgerald was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, and to ensure absolute accountability for the safe navigation of the ship.

The USS John S McCain is in the same squadron — destroyer squadron 15 — as the USS Fitzgerald, which is part of the United States Seventh Fleet. The squadron is permanently assigned to Task Force 70 — a US Navy carrier strike group — with the flagship the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

The US Navy 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," Mr McCain said on Twitter.

This story is developing.