Navy dismisses 7th Fleet commander after warship accidents

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TOKYO (AP)-- The U.S. Navy dismissed the commander of the Asia-based 7th Fleet on Wednesday after a series of warship accidents raised questions about its operations in the Pacific.

Photo: US Navy
Photo: US Navy

A two-sentence statement said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, had relieved Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.”

The move follows four Navy accidents in the Pacific since late January, including two collisions that left sailors dead and missing.

“While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation,” Swift said earlier.

He said the Navy will carry out a “deliberate re-set” of all its ships in the Pacific, focused on navigation, mechanical systems and bridge resource management. It will include training and an expert assessment of each ship.

The Navy said that Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, who had already been named as Aucoin’s successor, would assume command immediately.

On Monday, the destroyer USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker collided off Singapore, injuring five sailors and leaving 10 others missing. Seven sailors died in June when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off Japan.

Swift, speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Singapore where the McCain is now docked, said Navy divers had found remains of some of the missing in a flooded compartment in the ship. He also said Malaysians assisting in the search had found a body, but it had not been determined if it was a McCain crew member.

The 7th Fleet said in a statement Wednesday that Navy and Marine Corps divers are continuing to search flooded compartments in the McCain in the hope of locating more of the missing sailors. The sea-based search east of Singapore “is expanding to encompass a greater area as time goes on,” it said.

Singapore’s government said the search area more than doubled Wednesday to about 5,500 square kilometers (2,120 square miles) with aircraft and vessels deployed by the U.S., Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.

At least three of the 10 missing sailors have been identified by relatives.

Crew member Logan Palmer is from the Decatur, Illinois, area and his mother identified him as missing, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said.

April Brandon in Michigan said the military informed her that her son, Ken Smith, is missing. She said Smith’s father, stepmother and grandfather served in the Navy. Brandon said, “His father and I couldn’t be prouder of our son.”



 
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