Ten U.S. sailors were missing after a collision between a destroyer and a tanker east of Singapore on Monday, the second involving a U.S. warship and a merchant ship in Asia in about two months, triggering a fleet-wide probe of operations and training.
The guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided while the warship was heading to Singapore for a routine port call. The collision tore a hole in the warship's waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area, the U.S. Navy said in a statement.
"Initial reports indicate John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side aft," the Navy said. "There are currently 10 sailors missing and five injured."
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said there would be a wider investigation into U.S. naval operations after the collision.
Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said he was calling an "operational pause" in U.S. fleets worldwide "to make sure that we are taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world."
In a video statement, Richardson said a comprehensive review would "examine the process by which we train and certify our forces that are forward deployed in Japan to make sure we are doing everything we can to make them ready for operations and warfighting."
He said it would include looking at "operational tempo, trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance and equipment."
He said the review would be conducted on "a very tight timeline" and added: "we need to get to the bottom of this."
The John S. McCain's sister ship, the Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship on June 17. The bodies of seven U.S. sailors were found in a flooded berthing area after that collision.
The U.S. Navy said last week it had removed the two senior officers and the senior enlisted sailor on the Fitzgerald following an investigation into that collision.
The John S. McCain had made its way to Singapore's Changi Naval Base by Monday afternoon under its own power.
Significant damage to the hull had resulted in flooding to compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms, the Navy said, but crew members were able to stop the flooding.
A search-and-rescue mission involving Singaporean ships, helicopters and tugs as well as U.S. Navy aircraft was underway for the missing sailors.
Four of the injured were taken to a hospital in Singapore with non-life threatening injuries. The fifth needed no further treatment.
Collisions between warships and other large vessels are extremely rare, with naval historians having to go back more than 50 years to find a similar incident.
Reuters video footage from the Singapore Strait showed an area of impact about 6 metres (20 ft) wide in the John S. McCain's port side.
The U.S. Navy said the amphibious assault ship America had arrived to provide messing and berthing for crew of the John S. McCain. It would support the search for the missing and provide divers to assess the damage.
A crew member on the Alnic MC told Reuters there was no oil spill from the Liberian-flagged, 183 metre-long (600 ft) tanker, which was carrying almost 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Taiwan to discharge in 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."
Stealth Maritime Corporation, the Greece-based owner of the tanker, said the vessel was moving to safe anchorage for assessment. Reuters later saw the Alnic MC anchored off Singapore.
Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said no injuries were reported on the Alnic, which suffered some damage above the waterline.
NO OIL POLLUTION REPORTED
"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, the Malaysian Navy said the collision happened in Malaysian waters and it had sent vessels to assist.
The Pedra Branca area near where the collision happened has long been contested by both countries, with an international court ruling in Singapore's favour in 2008. Malaysia filed an application to review that ruling this year.
The U.S. Navy said Malaysian Navy vessels and a helicopter joined the search in the afternoon. Indonesia said it had sent two aircraft and two warships to help.
The waterways around Singapore are some of the busiest and most important in the world, carrying about a third of global shipping trade.
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.
"Instances like this should be rare and they are rare," Stewart said.
The Fitzgerald and John S. McCain, built in the same shipyard, are both ballistic missile defence (BMD) capable ships and part of the same Japan-based destroyer squadron. The Seventh Fleet has six ships assigned to BMD patrols, with half on patrol at any time.
The accidents come at a tense time.
The John S. McCain carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea this month, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China.
The operation was the latest to counter what the United States sees
as China's efforts to control the waters. China denounced it.
North Korea threatened last week to fire ballistic missiles towards the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would unleash "fire and fury" if North Korea threatened the United States.
"Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnSMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway," Trump said on Twitter.
The U.S. vessel involved in the latest collision is named for the father and grandfather of U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, who were both admirals.
Senator McCain, a Vietnam War naval pilot who was shot down and held prisoner for 5-1/2 years, is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
"Cindy & I are keeping America
's sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight - appreciate the work of search & rescue crews," he said on Twitter, referring to his wife.
(By Fathin Ungku and Masayuki Kitano; Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein and Jessica Jaganathan, Aradhana Aravindan, Karishma Singh, Sam Holmes, Tim Kelly, Joseph Sipalan, Rozanna Latiff, Kanupriya Kapoor, Idrees Ali in Amman, David Brunnstrom, David Alexander and Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Tom Brown and Paul Simao)