By Bernard Betancourt. On Sunday August 20th at approximately 6:24 A.M. Japan time, the Liberian Flagged MV Alnic MC (Alnic) collided with the USS John McCain. Initial assessments from the Pacific Command are that the Alnic’s bow, its forward-most section, hit the USS McCain’s aft port side (left side near the back end of the ship) approximately 150 miles east from the Straights of Malacca, and about 100 miles from shore (based on data from marinetraffic.com). The collision occurred in the morning, at or near sunrise under partly cloudy skies and minimal sea conditions.
There are numerous issues that will require thorough investigation, but what’s obvious now is that accident occurred in open waters. And importantly, the USS McCain was much further south than the initial headline-grabbing naval operations originally stated. In fact, the collision occurred near the disputed South China Sea Islands where China has already built one base. Also nearby is Mischief Reef, about 100 miles from the coast of the Philippines. This location is where a new base is currently under consideration for construction by the Chinese.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
In this situation let’s begin with the ugly. Ten US sailors are missing, and five are injured. That alone should be cause for pause. If the issue of strict maritime law plays out, right-of-way is going to be a major factor in determining fault and for the most part all parties will be held responsible in one way or another. Plus, one could ask why the USS McCain was that far south to begin with when their supposed operations were well to the northeast of the collision.
There really is no good news, but at least it appears at first blush that the USS McCain was likely not at fault. Based upon the Collision Regulations and the subsection on “Rules of the Road,” it appears the Liberian-flagged ship is likely to blame. But again, nothing can spin a real positive in the face of multiple US casualties.
Here’s the really bad news: US warships are designed to emit a minimal radar signature in order to evade radar detection. Additionally, a grey colored ship can be difficult to spot under certain weather conditions. They also typically operate with minimal running lights, which can be an issue when close encounters happen. The USS McCain just like the USS Fitzgerald collision two months ago was the far more maneuverable vessel. When the investigation occurs, this will likely be taken into account. An oil tanker is in a difficult situation, especially in a crossing situation. This scenario can get the USS McCain crew into hot water.
With the McCain collision unfolding just two months after the USS Fitzgerald Collision with the MV ACX Crystal, scrutiny needs to be applied to the upper echelons of US Pacific Command. Substandard training may be part of the problem, as one active-duty Navy officer expressed concern to Fox News over the training of young Navy officers aboard ships: “It’s not the same level of training you used to get.”
Incredibly, the McCain collision marks the fourth mishap for U.S. Navy ships in the Pacific since February. Aside from the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald incidents, the Navy cruiser USS Antietam ran aground dumping over 1,000 gallons of oil in Tokyo Bay in February. In May, another cruiser, USS Lake Champlain, hit a South Korean fishing vessel. At minimum, Trump should seriously consider a change of command for the Pacific Fleet.
Pacific Command: Destroyer Sailing Under its Own Power
By Ryan Pickrell. The USS John McCain sustained damage after colliding with a merchant vessel Monday, according to the U.S. 7th Fleet public affairs office.
The American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer was involved in a collision with the Alnic MC, an oil tanker several times larger than the U.S. naval vessel, while operating east of Singapore, near the Strait of Malacca. Initial reports indicate that the ship suffered damage to its port side. Search and rescue operations are underway. “Our first priority is determining the safety of the ship and crew. As more information is learned, we will share it,” Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said on Twitter.
The ship is sailing under its own power back to port while crew members fight flooding in multiple compartments, a possible sign that a decent-sized hole may have been punched in the ship’s hull. The Singaporean navy and coast guard are assisting U.S. naval vessels and aircraft with search and rescue. The extent of the damage is unclear at this time, but the Navy assesses that 10 sailors are missing and five are injured. (Read more from “US Destroyer Sustains Damage in Collision With Massive Oil Tanker” HERE)