US Admiral Scott Swift has relieved three-star Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the US Navy's 7th Fleet in the Pacific today after confirming yesterday (22 August) that search and rescue efforts following a collision between USS John S McCain and the Alnic MC tanker near Singapore had found multiple human remains.
It was the second fatal collision in two months - after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off Japan in June and left seven sailors dead - and the fourth accident in the Pacific this year involving an American warship.
Swift said the collisions involving US Navy ships can not be viewed in isolation and that it was the US Navy's goal to find out whether there is a common cause underlying the uptick.
On Aug. 21, Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, ordered a broad investigation into the performance and readiness of its forces in the Pacific.
Navy officials have also been investigating the role that training, manning and crew communications may have played in the collisions.
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. "As the Navy begins the process of recovering our fallen sailors, our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and friends", the statement said.
An official Chinese newspaper said yesterday 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.
The Royal Malaysian Navy located one body at sea and officials were working to determine whether it was one of the missing sailors, he said. And the USS Fitzgerald was struck off the coast of Japan on June 17 by a much heavier container ship, the Philippine-flagged MV ACX Crystal, killing seven USA seamen.
This month, the John S McCain sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the disputed South China Sea, the latest "freedom of navigation" operation to counter what the United States sees as China's efforts to control the contested waters.
A senior admiral announced last week that the commander of the destroyer and several other officers had been relieved of their duties aboard their ship over the incident.
As well as providing material support from the amphibious assault ship the USS America, the 7th Fleet statement said that the Navy was providing mental health support and other counseling and medical resources. "We do not want to have another collision", he said.