Last week, the U.S. Navy announced that the commanding and executive officers of the USS John S. McCain would be relieved from command following the investigation into a tragic collision between the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer and a commercial oil tanker in August.

Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, the McCain’s commander, and Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, its executive officer, have been relieved of their duties and reassigned, the Navy stated in a press release.

“While the investigation is ongoing, it is evident the collision was preventable, the commanding officer exercised poor judgement, and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship’s training program.” The Navy releases said.  Navy officials cited a “loss of confidence” in the officers as the reason for the decision.

Sanchez, the former commanding officer has a new role within the Navy as the Commander for Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ) and Sanchez (executive officer) was reassigned to Ship Repair Facility (SRF) Yokosuka.

The collision that occurred between the McCain and the Alnic MC, a 600-foot, Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker occurred early in the morning on August 21stDamage from the collision extended below the waterline, flooding crew compartments and ultimately claiming the lives of ten sailors.  This tragic collision was the second to occur in two months, and the fourth such incident within the last year, prompting a significant shakeup through the Navy’s Pacific fleet command structure.

In August, the Navy announced that it would relieve the commanders of the USS Fitzgerald, the other destroyer involved in a collision with a commercial vessel this summer, following an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident which involved a large cargo ship, the ACX Crystal.  Unlike with the USS John S. McCain, however, several junior officers were also relieved or otherwise punished for their involvement in the incident, which claimed the lives of seven sailors.

Further, the Commander of the entire 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was also relieved of duty later that month.  Aside from the two high-profile collisions cited above, the USS Lake Champlain collided with a civilian fishing boat earlier this year, and the USS Antietam, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, also ran aground in February.  A loss of confidence in Aucoin’s ability to command was also cited as the reason for his dismissal at the time.

While the Navy continues its investigation into the causes of these incidents, many have pointed to the Pacific fleet’s rigorous deployment schedule and few scheduled opportunities to conduct necessary training as the cause.  The extreme operational tempo in the Pacific, combined with what several Navy leaders identified as a series of spending cuts set into motion by the sequestration, have limited the Navy’s ability to continue to conduct operations while devoting the time and resources necessary to training and maintenance of their vessels, though Navy leaders acknowledged that commanders at every level share in the responsibility for these tragic mishaps.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy