US admiral sacked after latest fatal warship collision
The US Navy has said it had removed Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin after a series of collisions involving its warships in Asia as the search goes on for 10 sailors missing since the latest accident.
Vice Adm Aucoin's removal comes after a pre-dawn collision between a guided-missile destroyer and a merchant vessel east of Singapore and Malaysia on Monday, the fourth major incident in the US Pacific Fleet this year.
"Admiral Scott Swift, commander of US Pacific Fleet, today relieved the commander of Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command," the US Navy said in a press release.
Adm Swift, who travelled to Japan to relieve Vice Adm Aucoin, ordered his deputy Pacific Fleet commander, Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer, to immediately take command of the powerful US force.
The Seventh Fleet, headquartered in Japan, operates as many as 70 ships, including the US Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, and has around 140 aircraft and 20,000 sailors. It operates over an area of 124 million square km from bases in Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
An official Chinese newspaper said on Tuesday the US navy's latest collision shows it is becoming an increasing risk to shipping in Asia despite its claims of helping to protect freedom of navigation.
"Losing another ship now is bad timing. It may raise concern over America's defensive capabilities and it could send the wrong signal to North Korea and China," a senior Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force officer said, asking not to be identified.
An international search-and-rescue operation involving aircraft, divers and vessels from the US, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia is looking for the 10 missing sailors.
On Tuesday, US Navy and Marine divers found human remains inside sealed sections of the damaged hull of the USS John S McCain, which is moored in Singapore.
The US Navy is also working to identify a body found by the Malaysian navy about eight nautical miles northwest of the collision site.
Photos posted on the Twitter account of a Malaysian navy frigate showed crew carrying what appeared to be a body to a US Navy helicopter.
The latest collision has already prompted a fleet-wide investigation and plans for temporary halts in US Navy operations.
The John S McCain's sister ship, the USS Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship on June 17.
The bodies of seven US sailors were found in a flooded berthing area after that collision.