August 21, 2017
New York Times: By Hannah Beech & Motoko Rich
BANGKOK — Search teams scrambled on Monday to determine the fate of 10 missing Navy sailors after a United States destroyer collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, the second accident involving a Navy ship and a cargo vessel in recent months.
The guided-missile destroyer, the John S. McCain, was passing east of the Strait of Malacca on its way to a port visit in Singapore at 5:24 a.m. local time, before dawn broke, when it collided with the Alnic MC, a 600-foot vessel that transports oil and chemicals, the Navy said. The destroyer was damaged near the rear on its port, or left-hand, side.
Half a day after the crash, 10 sailors on the ship remained unaccounted for. Five others were injured, none with life-threatening conditions, a Navy official said. Ships with the Singaporean and Malaysian navies and helicopters from the assault ship America were rushing to search for survivors.
Families of the ship’s crew members waited through the night in the United States, hoping for news of their loved ones.
“No word yet but some sailors have called on cell to families,” wrote Marla Meriano, the mother of Meghan Meriano, a 24-year-old electrical officer, in a Facebook post. “Thank you for all the prayers and remarks,” she wrote two hours later. “God has his plan and we serve him.”
The collision occurred in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, a narrow waterway of strategic significance connecting the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea, where Beijing has been challenging American naval dominance. It immediately raised questions about the training and safety record of Navy ships, coming just two months after another Navy destroyer collided with a freighter off Japan, killing seven American sailors.
“Clearly this is an annus horribilis for the U.S. Navy,” said Euan Graham, the director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2017
Kirk Patterson, a former dean of the Japan campus of Temple University who has crossed the Pacific in a sailboat and circumnavigated Japan, said, “It is really hard to understand with all the technology that’s out there in the world on a boat, especially a naval destroyer that’s supposed to be the best in the world.” For a destroyer to be hit by an oil tanker would be “like an F1 sports car and a garbage truck,” he said. “Which one is going to be able to avoid the collision? An F1 racing car equipped with state-of-the-art missiles.”
A destroyer going through a difficult a passage like the Strait of Malacca would typically have half a dozen sailors, including two officers, on the bridge watching for the lights of other ships, said retired Navy Capt. Bernard D. Cole, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and professor emeritus at the National War College.
In such clogged traffic, it would also be common for the commanding officer or the executive officer, the two most senior officers on board, to be on the bridge, he said. There would also be a navigator and other enlisted men in the combat information center scanning radar.
Once the oil tanker was detected, Captain Cole said, the officer on deck or the commanding officer would propose some kind of evasive action to avoid the collision. Most likely, he said, they would have called the other ship to propose a plan for safe passage.
But “in some places like the approaches to the Malacca Strait, geographically you don’t have a lot of flexibility” given how narrow the channel is, he said, adding, “It can be confusing at night.”
Typically, in a situation where a crew becomes confused by heavy ship traffic and lights, the advice is to “find the darkest part of the ocean and head for it.”
“That is all well and good in the middle of the Pacific,” said Captain Cole said, “but you can’t do that in the Mallarca Straits.”
A picture of the John S. McCain showed a gaping hole in its side right at the waterline, but the ship did not appear to be listing.
In a statement, the Navy said the destroyer had reached Changi Naval Base in Singapore. “Significant damage to the hull resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms,” the statement said. “Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding.”
In Yokosuka, Japan, the destroyer’s home port, the Navy set up a hotline for parents to receive information, but after Mrs. Meriano dialed the number, she wrote: “No info on it. No updates stateside for parents. We are the only family and no info here yet.”
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Disclaimer: This article was not written by Silent Soldier.