Pentagon fires two more Navy officers over warship collisions in Asian waters that killed 17 US sailors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 9:02am

Two senior US Navy officers were fired Monday due to a “loss of confidence in their ability to command” after two collisions with civilian ships in the western Pacific killed 17 sailors at sea, the Pentagon said.

Rear Admiral Charles Williams, commander of the warships on patrol in the Asia-Pacific region, and Captain Jeffrey Bennett, commander of guided missile destroyers in the region, were the latest leaders removed since the Navy launched an investigation last month into the pair of deadly accidents involving the USS John S. McCain and the USS Fitzgerald.

Defence Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon he was confident in how the Navy was examining the mishaps that have shaken the military and political leadership. In all, four US warships had collisions or ran aground in the Pacific this year.

The Navy has “a tradition of holding officers accountable, and they’ll do what they think is necessary,” he said.

In addition to the loss of life in the Navy, Mattis said he was concerned about a string of aviation crashes and other accidents during training exercises that have killed or injured more than 50 troops this year.

“We’re going to look at what happened on the demolition range and we’re going to look at what happened at seamanship on a ship and we’re going to look at what happened when an aircraft came out of the air,” he said.

A US Army special operations service member was killed Thursday and several others were injured during a training incident at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

A day earlier, 15 Marines were injured during exercise after their amphibious landing vehicle caught fire at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

“What has caused the compilation of these coming in?” Mattis said. “Right now I don’t have that broader knowledge.”

Mattis focused much of his comments on the Navy accidents because so many sailors died.

The Navy has fired several commanders related to the deadly collisions, including Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the Japan-based 7th Fleet that oversees all operations in the Asia-Pacific region

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, ordered a sweeping review last month to determine why trained crews on US warships carrying radars and other hi-tech sensors failed to avoid collisions while underway.

Richardson also announced a rare “operational pause” to give time to the Navy to assess its policies and procedures.

The stand-down was announced hours after the US guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain collided on August 21 with the Alnic MC, a Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker that is nearly three times its size.

Ten sailors were killed in the accident, which occurred at the entrance to the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, near Singapore.

Two months earlier, on June 17, the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald was rammed by a much larger Philippine-flagged container ship, the ACX Crystal, about 50 nautical miles from the US Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan.

Seven sailors were killed in that accident. The commander and executive officer of the Fitzgerald were later relieved of command.

A guided-missile cruiser, Lake Champlain, collided with a South Korean fishing vessel on May 9 off the Korean Peninsula. Another guided-missile cruiser, Antietam, ran aground January 31 and gushed oil into Tokyo Bay.