By Anna Fifield
SEOUL, South Korea – The remains of some of the 10 sailors missing since a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore have been found, the commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet said Tuesday.
The search for other missing sailors from the USS John S. McCain was ongoing.
“We’re always hopeful that there are survivors,” Adm. Scott Swift said at a news conference in Singapore. “Until we have exhausted any potential of recovering survivors ... the search and rescue efforts will continue.”
Swift also said he had ordered a special review of naval operations at the U.S. Navy’s main bases in Japan at Yokosuka and Sasebo after four incidents this year off Japan and South Korea – two of them involving Yokosuka-based ships.
Ten sailors have been missing since the McCain and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker – more than three times the destroyer’s size – collided at the entrance to the Strait of Malacca before dawn on Monday.
Singaporean and Malaysian navy ships and helicopters had joined American aircraft searching for the sailors at sea. But earlier Tuesday, Navy and Marine Corps divers were sent into the compartments in the damaged part of the destroyer that had been sealed to stop the ship from being flooded. The ship is now moored at Changi naval base in Singapore.
“The divers were able to locate some remains in those sealed compartments during their search today,” Swift said. It was “premature” to say how many bodies had been found, he added.
“Additionally, the Malaysian Navy has reported that they have located potential remains,” Swift said. It was not yet clear if the body was one of the missing sailors. The remains were being transferred to the U.S. Navy for identification.
Swift said that ship suffered “significant damage” and investigators were seeking to piece together “what happened and how it happened.”
There had been no indication of a cyberattack, Swift said, responding to speculation about the cause of two collisions in just over two months, but he added that every scenario will be reviewed.
Tuesday’s statement will come as a heavy blow to the Navy, but particularly to the 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka.
Yokosuka is the home port for both the McCain and the USS Fitzgerald, which was involved in a surprisingly similar collision in June, leaving seven sailors dead.
The Fitzgerald collided with a container ship south of Japan, leading to significant damage to its hull and a frantic effort to seal off the damage and stop the rest of the ship from flooding. Seven sailors were trapped in their berthing compartment in the process, and all drowned.
The McCain collision was the Navy’s fourth major accident at sea in Asia this year. On May 9, a collision occurred between the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and a South Korean fishing vessel. On Jan. 31, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay near Yokosuka.
The Navy’s top admiral on Monday ordered a fleetwide review of seamanship and training in the Pacific after the latest collision.
The series of accidents in the Pacific “demands more-forceful action,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told reporters Monday, adding that there is “great cause for concern that there is something we are not getting at.”
He ordered Navy fleets across the world to take a day or two within the next week to review their procedures and training to make sure they are operating safely.
Swift said Tuesday that he welcomed the review to see if there was a “common cause.”
“One tragedy like this is one too many and while each of these four events is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation,” he said, adding that the Pacific operational review will be completed by next Monday, Swift said.
“In addition, I have ordered a second phase that will be focused on all surface ships deployed in the Pacific, including those forward deployed naval forces in Yokosuka and Sasebo,” Swift said, referring to the two U.S. naval bases in Japan. “This second phase will be a deliberate reset for our ships focused on a number of areas, such as navigation, ships’ mechanical systems, and bridge resource management.”
The McCain is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer – named after the father and grandfather of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and nicknamed “Big Bad John” – that had been on its way to a routine port visit in Singapore after patrolling in the South China Sea.
The collision occurred just east of the Strait of Malacca, a 550-mile-long stretch of water that runs between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans, and is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
The collision caused significant damage to the hull, flooded nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.