The U.S. Navy relieved the 7th Fleet’s commanding officer in the wake of yet another collision between an American warship and a commercial vessel on Wednesday. The most recent crash resulted in ten sailors missing, some of whom have since been confirmed dead.
“Admiral Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, today relieved the commander of Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the U.S. Navy said in a press release.
Since January, there have been four high profile incidents involving U.S. Navy vessels colliding with commercial ships or running aground. The severity of these incidents is compounded by tensions in the 7th Fleet’s area of operation, the Pacific Ocean, where relations between the growing Naval power China are strained, and the possibility of war with North Korea remains looming.
Admiral Swift then promoted Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer, the Pacific Fleet’s deputy commander, to the command level position. He was already slated to take on the new role, but was not scheduled to assume the post until next month.
The USS John S. McCain collided with a commercial oil tanker early Monday morning, causing severe damage to the warship’s rear, port side that resulted in internal flooding that appears to have claimed at least one life. The U.S. Navy announced that they’ve located some human remains inside the flooded compartments of the ship, and at least one body has been recovered from the open ocean by the Malaysian Navy, but thus far, there has been no official confirmation as to how many of the ten missing sailors are confirmed to be dead. Unfortunately, as the search presses on, bolstered by vessels and aircraft from at least five nations, it grows increasingly unlikely that any of them will be found alive.
Four other sailors required medevac for serious injuries sustained it the collision as well.
This incident occurred on the heels of the Navy’s announcement that they were relieving the command of the USS Fitzgerald for another collision with a larger commercial vessel in June that claimed the lives of seven sailors. The bridge and watch crews were both faulted for the incident, which saw a number of administrative and non-judicial punishments levied on lower ranking officers and enlisted sailors as well.
One month prior to the Fitzgerald’s mishap, the USS Lake Champlain collided with a commercial fishing vessel in the Sea of Japan, and only a few months before that, the USS Antietam ran aground off the coast of Japan. These incidents have drawn international attention, with China’s state-owned newspaper “China Daily” publishing a column earlier this week calling the U.S. Navy’s presence in the Pacific a “dangerous obstacle.”
The US Navy, which likes to claim its presence can help safeguard ‘freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea, is proving to be an increasing hindrance to ships sailing in Asian waters,” the newspaper wrote. “While the US Navy is becoming a dangerous obstacle in Asian waters, China has been making joint efforts with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to draw up a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and it has boosted navigational safety by constructing five lighthouses on its islands.”
Earlier this week, the Navy called for an operational pause for all 277 active ships in order to review “basic seamanship, teamwork and other fundamentals.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy