PENTAGON - The U.S. Navy has dismissed the commander of the 7th Fleet after several collisions involving warships, including one Monday that killed 10 U.S. sailors.
Navy Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift relieved Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin Wednesday, citing a “loss of confidence in his ability to command,” according to a statement.
Aucoin was scheduled to retire in January, but his departure was moved up after the USS John S. McCain became the second U.S. guided-missile destroyer to collide with a commercial vessel in as many months.
The Navy said that Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, who had been named to succeed Aucoin earlier, will assume command immediately.
Multiple recent collisions
Scott said at a news conference Tuesday that divers have recovered human remains from the ship, which suffered “significant damage.”
U.S. investigators are 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.
In response to the incident, the Navy ordered an immediate operational pause across the U.S. fleet.
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.
Mourning the lost sailors
The White House Press Office released a statement Tuesday mourning the deaths of the 10 U.S. sailors.
“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.
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 ship’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.
Steve Herman contributed to this report.