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White House Pays Tribute to Sailors Lost in Collision at Sea


Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Scott Swift answers questions during a press conference with the USS John S. McCain and USS America docked in the background at Singapore's Changi naval base in Singapore, Aug. 22, 2017.

The White House Press Office has released a statement mourning the deaths of 10 U.S. sailors who died in a collision at sea Monday.

"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.

"We are grateful for the rescue and recovery efforts of the officers and crew of the USS John S. McCain, the Malaysian Coast Guard, Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Singaporean Navy," the White House statement said, adding that the Defense Department will conduct a "thorough and complete" investigation of the incident.

U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift said Tuesday that divers have recovered human remains from the USS John S. McCain, the second U.S. guided-missile destroyer to collide with a commercial vessel in as many months. The American ship suffered "significant damage."

FILE - Damage is visible as the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain steers toward Changi naval base in Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC, Aug. 21, 2017.
FILE - Damage is visible as the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain steers toward Changi naval base in Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC, Aug. 21, 2017.

Swift also said at a news conference in Singapore that the Navy is trying to identify a body that was recovered by the Malaysian navy.

U.S. investigators have been trying to determine what led to the collision with a Liberian tanker ship near the Strait of Malacca. Navy photos show a gaping hole below the waterline on the destroyer's port side. Some sleeping areas and communications rooms flooded as a result.

The order for an immediate operational pause across the U.S. fleet was a response to the collision.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said a pause of one to two days will give commanders a chance to evaluate everything from how officers conduct themselves on the bridge to shipwide working conditions.

"There's something out there that we're not getting at," Richardson told Pentagon reporters late Monday. However, he added, there is no indication so far that anyone intentionally caused the collision.

Series of mishaps

Richardson has also ordered a broader investigation that will look at potential root causes for what he described as a series of mishaps at sea — from training and operational tempo to equipment and maintenance. He said that effort would bring in experts from outside the Navy to make sure nothing is overlooked.

In the earlier collision involving a U.S. destroyer, seven sailors from the USS Fitzgerald died when their ship hit a container ship in waters off Japan. The Navy relieved the U.S. captain of his command, and further punitive actions are expected, following an inquiry that found poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch contributed to the collision.

The USS McCain is named for the father and grandfather of U.S. Senator John McCain, both of them four-star Navy admirals. The senator also was a naval officer, an aviator who spent six years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

VOA's Steve Herman contributed to this report.

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