Ten sailors are missing after a US warship collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore before dawn yesterday, tearing a hole beneath the waterline and flooding compartments that include a crew sleeping area, the US Navy said.
The collision between the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC was the second involving a US Navy destroyer and a merchant vessels in Asian waters in little more than two months.
The ships collided while the US warship was heading to Singapore for a routine port call, the US Navy said in a statement.
Photo: AP / Grady T. Fontana / US Navy
“Initial reports indicate John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft,” the US Navy said. “There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured.”
The destroyer had made its way to Singapore’s Changi Naval Base by yesterday afternoon.
Significant damage to the hull had resulted in flooding to compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms, the US Navy said, but crew members were able to stop the flooding.
Four of the injured were taken by helicopter to hospital in Singapore with non-life threatening injuries. The fifth needed no further treatment.
The USS John S. McCain’s sister ship, the USS Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after it was struck by a Philippine container ship on June 17. The bodies of seven Fitzgerald sailors were found in a flooded berthing area.
A search-and-rescue mission was under way for the sailors missing from the USS John S. McCain involving Singaporean ships, helicopters and tugs, as well as US Navy aircraft.
A crew member on the Alnic MC said by telephone there was no oil spill from the Liberian-flagged, 183m long tanker, which was carrying almost 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Taiwan to Singapore.
“We have not discharged the tanker yet,” said the crew member, who asked not to be identified. “We are proceeding to Raffles Reserved Anchorage, where the owners will investigate the matter. There was some damage to the valve, but no oil spill.”
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said no injuries were reported on the Alnic, which suffered some damage above the waterline.
“There is no report of oil pollution and traffic in the Singapore Strait is unaffected,” the MPA said, adding that the collision happened in Singaporean territorial waters.
However, Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said the collision happened in Malaysian waters and that Malaysia had sent vessels to assist.
He said the KD Handalan was the first to respond to the distress call from the US ship.
“KD Handalan was just 2 miles from the USS McCain when it first received the distress call,” he said.
The Pedra Branca area near where the collision happened has long been contested by both nations.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Director General Zulkifili Abu Bakar told reporters that his government disputed Singapore’s assertion that the accident happened in its waters.
He said the Malaysian search and rescue operation was independent of Singapore’s and Malaysia had not communicated with its neighbor about the incident.
Ben Stewart, commercial manager of Maritime Asset Security and Training in Singapore, said early indications suggested the warship may have turned across the front of the tanker.
USS John S. McCain is named for the father and grandfather of US Senator John McCain, who were both admirals.
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