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Stricken US destroyer arrives in Singapore after collision, 10 sailors missing

A frantic search continued Monday for 10 sailors missing after a collision between a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer and an oil tanker three times its size off Singapore.

Meanwhile, The U.S. Navy pushed ahead with investigations into the “the facts and circumstances” of the collision involving the USS John S. McCain — the second such incident between a U.S. warship and commercial vessel in the Pacific region this summer.

The John S. McCain arrived at the Changi Naval Base in Singapore, and photos showed a large hole in its side at the waterline. More than 14 hours after the collision, there had been no word of any progress with the hunt for the missing sailors.

“Search and rescue efforts continue in coordination with local authorities,” the Navy’s 7th Fleet said in an update.

Earlier, Royal Malaysian Navy ships joined Singaporean and American ships and helicopters in the search.

This was the second time in two months that a Navy destroyer based at the 7th Fleet’s home port of Yokosuka, Japan, has been involved in a collision at sea, and this latest incident bears similarities. Seven sailors were killed when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship south of Japan in June, which also led to flooding in berthing compartments.

The USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named after the father and grandfather of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and nicknamed “Big Bad John,” had been on its way to a routine port visit in Singapore after patrolling in the South China Sea.

Shipping data showed the Liberian-flagged merchant vessel Alnic MC was also on its way to Singapore when the ships collided east of the Strait of Malacca at 5:24 a.m. local time, well before sunrise.

The 550-mile-long strait 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 Alnic is more than three times the size of the McCain, with a gross tonnage of 30,000, compared with the destroyer’s 8,300.

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. “Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding,” it said. 

Four sailors were medically evacuated from the McCain by a Singapore Armed Forces helicopter and are now in a hospital in Singapore being treated for injuries that were not life-threatening. A fifth sailor who was injured did not require further medical attention, it said.

On the McCain’s Facebook page, people were hoping for good news about the missing. “Praying all the sailors including my brother are safe the missing are found!” wrote Natalie Bossio.

The 7th Fleet set up an emergency assistance center in Yokosuka for family members of the McCain crew, and Admiral Scott Swift, the head of the Pacific Fleet, is headed to Singapore to visit the damaged vessel, according to a fleet spokesman.

President Trump, returning to the White House on Sunday night, responded to reporters’ questions about the collision by saying: “That’s too bad.” Later Sunday night, Trump tweeted, “Thoughts prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search rescue efforts are underway.”

The China Daily, a state newspaper, took the opportunity to denounce the U.S. Navy’s activities in the South China Sea, where U.S. and allies have been trying to keep Chinese expansion in check. China claims full sovereignty over the sea.

The U.S. Navy “is becoming a dangerous obstacle in Asian waters” while China is trying to boost navigational safety, the paper said in an unsigned editorial.

“Anyone should be able to tell who is to blame for militarizing the waters and posing a threat to navigation,” it wrote.

Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said the tanker, which was carrying 12,000 tons of fuel oil, suffered damage 20 feet above the waterline but that none of its contents had leaked.

“There is no report of oil pollution and traffic in the Singapore Strait is unaffected,” the authority said, adding that none of the crew on the tanker were injured.

Marine traffic data showed the Alnic at anchor off Singapore Monday night.

The collision marks the fourth time this year a Navy vessel with the 7th Fleet has been involved in a major mishap, an embarrassing string that has prompted the service to remove several senior officers from command.

The others include the deadly collision involving the USS Fitzgerald on June 17, a May 9 incident in which the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel east of the Korean Peninsula and a Jan. 31 mishap in which the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay, near its home port of Yokosuka.

The collision Monday came just days after the Navy issued a damning report listing errors that led to theUSS Fitzgerald collision.

The seven sailors, who were killed in that incident all drowned in their berth compartments when the container ship struck the destroyer’s side.

The Navy said last week that it would discipline a dozen sailors who were aboard the Fitzgerald, including the top two officers and the top enlisted sailor, whose careers are almost certainly over. Adm. William F. Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said the sailors who were on watch in the ship’s bridge “lost situational awareness,” contributing to the collision.

Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.