USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer currently in the service of the United States Navy. She is part of the Destroyer Squadron 15 within the Seventh Fleet, and has her homeport at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan.
The destroyer was involved in a collision with the merchant ship Alnic MC on 21 August 2017 off the coast of Singapore, which resulted in the deaths of ten of her crew, and left another five injured. This event occurred a little over two months after a collision between USS Fitzgerald and MV ACX Crystal resulted in fatalities.
USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) underway in January 2003
|Name:||USS John S. McCain|
|Namesake:||John S. McCain, Sr. and John S. McCain, Jr.|
|Ordered:||13 December 1988|
|Builder:||Bath Iron Works|
|Laid down:||3 September 1991|
|Launched:||26 September 1992|
|Commissioned:||2 July 1994|
|Motto:||Fortune Favors the Brave|
|Nickname(s):||"Big Bad John"|
|Status:||Undergoing repairs after damages sustained on 21 August 2017|
|Class and type:||Arleigh Burke-class destroyer|
|Length:||505 ft (154 m)|
|Beam:||66 ft (20 m)|
|Draft:||31 ft (9.4 m)|
|Propulsion:||4 General Electric LM2500-30 gas turbines, two shafts, 100,000 total shaft horsepower (75 MW)|
|Speed:||>30 knots (56 km/h)|
|Aircraft carried:||2 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters can be embarked|
This warship is named after John S. McCain, Sr., and John S. McCain, Jr., both admirals in the United States Navy. John S. McCain, Sr. commanded the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, and later the Fast Carrier Task Force during the latter stages of World War II. John S. McCain, Jr. commanded the submarines USS Gunnel and USS Dentuda during World War II. He subsequently held a number of posts, rising to Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Command, before retiring in 1972. These men were, respectively, the grandfather and father of Senator John S. McCain III.
John S. McCain's keel was laid down on 3 September 1991, at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. She was launched on 26 September 1992, sponsored by Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator John McCain III, and was commissioned on 2 July 1994, at the Bath Iron Works. The former President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, was the ceremony's principal speaker. The ship was initially assigned a home port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and shifted to a forward-deploy port in Yokosuka, Japan in 1997.
In January 2003, John S. McCain deployed to the Persian Gulf. She launched 39 Tomahawk missiles in support of the invasion of Iraq and was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for her service. John S. McCain was awarded the Navy Battle E for DESRON 15 in 2003 and again in 2004. On 16 February 2007, John S. McCain was awarded the 2006 Battle Effectiveness Award.
On 11 June 2009, a Chinese submarine reportedly collided with the towed sonar array of John S. McCain near Subic Bay, Philippines. The incident caused damage to the array but was described as an "inadvertent encounter".
In June 2009, John S. McCain pursued the North Korean cargo ship Kang Nam 1 toward Burma in enforcement of the new United Nations resolution of an arms export embargo against North Korea. The vessel was suspected of carrying arms for the Burmese junta government. Kang Nam 1 returned to North Korea without delivering her cargo to Burma.
In March 2011, in company with the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, the ship was deployed off northeastern Honshu, Japan to assist with relief efforts after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. During that time, the ship may have been exposed to leaking radiation from the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.
In April 2013, John S. McCain was sent to South Korea during escalating tensions between the Koreas. In June 2014, John S. McCain was sent to Subic Bay to perform in CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) exercises.
On 2 October 2016, USS John S. McCain and USS Frank Cable made the first port visit by U.S. Navy ships to Cam Ranh Bay since end of the Vietnam War in 1975. In August 2017, John S. McCain sailed within 6 nautical miles (7 mi; 11 km) of Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, exercising a claim to freedom of navigation. China, claiming sovereignty over the reef, expressed its "strong dissatisfaction" in response to the action. A US Navy representative reported that a Chinese frigate had sent at least ten radio messages warning that the John S. McCain was in Chinese waters, to which the US ship replied that it was "conducting routine operations in international waters."
At 5:24 a.m. on 21 August 2017, John S. McCain was involved in a collision with the Liberian-flagged Alnic MC off the coast of Singapore and Malaysia, east of the Strait of Malacca. According to a United States Navy press release, the breach "resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery, and communications rooms." Ten US Navy sailors died as a result of the crash. After the incident, the ship, which sustained damage to her port side aft, was able to sail to Changi Naval Base in Singapore under her own power. The U.S. Navy announced on 24 August 2017 that it would be suspending search-and-rescue efforts for survivors in the open sea to focus on the recovery of the remains of the missing sailors still inside the flooded compartments of the ship. By 27 August U.S. Navy and Marine Corps divers had recovered the remains of all 10 sailors.
Immediately after the incident Navy reports suggested a fatigued bridge crew, poor communication between crew members and crowded shipping lanes as the most likely culprits. CNN quoted an unnamed "Navy official" stating that the ship lost steering control shortly before the accident but that "it was unclear why the crew couldn't use the ship's backup steering systems".
The collision was the second such incident in just over two months – the other involved John S. McCain's sister ship USS Fitzgerald and the container ship MV ACX Crystal. On the same day as the collision between John S. McCain and Alnic MC the Pentagon ordered all fleet operations around the world to make a brief "operational pause" for safety checks during the following two weeks, as well as beginning a full safety review. The U.S. 7th Fleet commander at the time of the accident, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was relieved of his command on 23 August 2017 for "loss of confidence in his ability to command". Rear Admiral Richard Brown was named to lead an internal investigation of the accident. Brown is a former commander of sister ship The Sullivans and currently serves as commander of Naval Personnel Command and deputy chief of Naval Personnel.
On 18 September 2017, the new U.S. 7th Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, as part of the investigations into four surface ship incidents involving Navy ships in the Western Pacific in 2017, including the collision involving the John S. McCain, ordered that Rear Admiral Charles Williams, Commander Task Force 70, and Captain Jeffrey Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, be removed from their positions due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command. On 10 October 2017, the commanding officer Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez and executive officer, Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, were both relieved due to a loss of confidence. A statement from U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs stated that "while the investigation is ongoing, it is evident the collision was preventable, the commanding officer exercised poor judgement, and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship’s training program." Commander Ed Angelinas, former commanding officer of USS McCampbell, and Lieutenant Commander Ray Ball, chief engineer of USS Antietam, were appointed acting commanding officer and acting executive officer of the John S. McCain.
On November 1, 2017, the US Navy issued a "Memorandum for distribution". The memorandum defines the legal privilege of such reports, but in the interests of transparency authorises the release of the two reports covering the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain collisions. The two reports are annexed to the memorandum. The reports are intended to be authoritative but are not balanced, they specifically exclude a detailed examination of the actions of the ACX Crystal and Alnic MC respectively.
On the August 20 navigation briefs were prepared for the transit of the Singapore Strait and rudder swing checks were performed. Shortly after midnight a log entry revealed that one radar was inoperable. After 01:00 more frequent position checks were recorded as the ship approached the straits and the Commanding Officer (CO) was on the bridge. At 02:16 the ship's propulsion configuration was changed. Normally the two propeller shafts are geared together and controlled as one but for increased manoeuvrability they can be separated so that different turbines drive each shaft. At 04:18 the ship changed to "Modified Navigation Detail" in which additional watchstanders were present on the bridge. This was normal for a US Navy ship when approaching within 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) of shallow water. From 04:27 position was determined and logged at 5 minute intervals.
At 04:36 the ship switched from automatic to manual control of steering. Various changes of course were required to avoid shipping but they were not logged. At 04:54 there was radar contact with the Alnic, ahead at a range of under 8 nautical miles (15 km; 9.2 mi). John McCain continued to make small alteration of course to avoid other vessels and by 05:18 was running at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) on a bearing of 230T. To keep this course against a tidal stream she was carrying between 1 and 4 degrees of right rudder. Shortly thereafter the CO realised that the helmsman was having difficulty in managing both the helm and the propulsion control and ordered the helm to be transferred to the Lee Helm watch station.
At 05:20:39 control of the helm passed to the Lee Helm position, the change bringing the rudder amidships. At 05:20:47b Lee Helm also took control of the port (left hand) engine. At 05:21 Helm reported that he had lost steering and the Conning Officer ordered steering control to the offline steering units and the aft control position was ordered manned. at 05:21:13 the port and at 05:21:15 the starboard steering was transferred to the aft position. At 05:22 the ship was turning to port and the CO ordered the external lights to be changed to "ship not under command", a warning to all vessels that the Navy ship could not control her course.
Over the next minute the Lee Helm took control of the starboard shaft, not realising that the port shaft was uncoupled. The CO ordered a reduction in speed, but only the port propeller was slowed, thereby increasing the turn to port. The Executive Officer warned the CO that the ship was not slowing so the CO ordered a further reduction in speed, increasing the rate of turn. The CO should have announced that he was personally taking control of manoeuvring but failed to do so.
The conning Officer ordered "right standard rudder" to turn to starboard at 05:23 and a second later the after steering position took control. 15 seconds later the main Helm position regained control in "Backup manual mode". At 05:23:24 the throttles were finally matched and the ship started to slow.
Three seconds later the aft helmsman took back control of the steering. The report notes that this was the fifth change of control in two minutes. At 05:23:44 fifteen degrees of rudder was ordered and John McCain finally ceased to turn. Fourteen seconds later (at 05:23:48) the collision occurred.
At no point did either ship sound the warning signal of five short blasts on the whistle (Colregs rule 34(d)) or attempt to contact the other via VHF radio. The report describes the actions taken in the aftermath of the collision. On page 49 it records the external lights being changed to "red over red" ("vessel not under command"), but the timeline on page 65 claims that this was done at 05:22, at least a minute before the collision.
The report criticises the John McCain under two headings: "Seamanship and Navigation" and "Leadership and Culture". The former heading mentions that a higher state of readiness was required in congested waters, that the "Sea and Anchor" detail should have been set earlier and that both vessels failed to sound the required signals or use VHF. The latter heading contains criticisms about the ship's organisation. Specifically the CO did not set the Sea and Anchor watch, watchstanders had not attended the navigation brief, leadership failed to assign sufficient experienced officers, the CO issued unplanned orders which were not communicated to the watch officers who in their turn failed to provide input and backup to the CO.
On 6 September 2017, the Military Sealift Command awarded a contract to the Dockwise marine transport company to move the damaged McCain in late September from Singapore to a US repair facility in Yokosuka, Japan where a damage assessment will be completed.