PENTAGON - The U.S. Navy is promising to take "a much more aggressive stance" as it tries to determine what led to a second collision between a U.S. guided-missile destroyer and a commercial vessel in as many months.
Ten American sailors are missing and five injured, with the USS John S. McCain sustaining "significant damage" as a result of Monday's collision with a tanker near the Strait of Malacca.
Photos released by the U.S. Navy show a gaping hole, below the waterline, on the John S. McCain's port side. A statement from the U.S. 7th Fleet said the damage was "significant" and that 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 Adm. John Richardson said the pause, lasting 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 while discussing the latest mishap, adding there is no indication so far that anyone intentionally caused the collision.
2 clarify Re: possibility of cyber intrusion or sabotage, no indications right now...but review will consider all possibilities— USNavyCNO (@USNavyCNO) August 21, 2017
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.
"We need to get at this, get this done," he said. "Just heartbroken at having to deal with this again."
The collision between USS John S. McCain and the Liberian-flagged tanker ship Alnic MC early Monday is the second involving a ship from the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship hit each other in waters off Japan.
In the case of the USS Fitzgerald, the Navy relieved the captain of his command and other sailors are to be punished after an inquiry found poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch contributed to the collision.
Two other U.S. Navy ships have also been involved in mishaps this year, one bumping into a fishing boat and the other running aground.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters while traveling in Jordan he "fully supports" the Navy's broader probe that "will look into all related accidents at sea."
"Once we have those facts, we'll share them with you," Mattis said.
Despite the damage, the USS McCain was able to pull into Singapore's Changi Naval Base under its own power.
Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority said the Alnic MC also sustained damage, but that there were no injuries among its crew.
The Singapore military evacuated four of the injured sailors by helicopter to a hospital in Singapore, where they are being treated for injuries that were not life threatening. The fifth sailor did not require medical attention.
The U.S. Navy said it is continuing search-and-rescue operations with the help of local authorities, including the Malaysian and Singaporean navies.
The USS America, an amphibious assault ship that had been in the region, is also on the scene in Singapore to help with search-and-rescue operations, as well as with damage assessment.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed support on Twitter, writing that his "thoughts and prayers" are with the sailors aboard the McCain.
The USS McCain is named for the father and grandfather of U.S. Senator John McCain, who each served as U.S. Navy admirals.
In a statement Monday, Senator McCain agreed with the Navy's efforts to identify the root problems quickly.
"More forceful action is urgently needed to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions," he said. "Our sailors who risk their lives every day, in combat and in training, deserve no less."