USS John S. McCain Collides With Oil Tanker In Malacca Strait – 10 Crewman Missing

by Richard Cameron


Early Monday – at 5:24AM Malaysia time, the USS John S. McCain – a guided missile destroyer was involved in a collision with a Liberian registered oil tanker, resulting in extensive damage to the Navy vessel and the status of 10 sailors of the destroyer’s crew unaccounted for at the time the incident was first reported.

The McCain was on the way through the Malacca Strait, headed for a port visit in Singapore, when the collision occurred between it and the AlnicMC.

The size of the two vessels was disproportionate. While the McCain is similar in length – 505 feet, to the Alnic’s 600 ft. (182m), the displacement of the ships is significantly different. The Alnic is a 30,000 ton vessel compared to the McCain’s 9,000 tons. The Malacca Strait is known to be among the world’s most congested shipping routes.

photo of the AlnicMC oil tanker that the USS McCain collided with on August 20,2017
the AlnicMC

There was conflicting information being reported early. The information officers of the Navy’s 7th Fleet told reporters that the McCain was returning to port under its own power, but other reports disclosed that the damage caused to the destroyer’s aft port, caused significant flooding in the rear left of the ship and had knocked out electricity in sections, resulting in limited propulsion.

Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, spoke with CNN, explaining the likely circumstances of the collision,

“Oil tankers are huge and it takes miles for them to change course. Malacca Strait is the most congested shipping area in the world. The most narrow point is only 2 nautical miles across.  When you’re going into a congested channel, you’re supposed to be very alert, track ships around you to a very meticulous degree.”

An investigation is underway, but it is secondary in importance at the present time, to the rescue effort that has been launched to locate the missing crewmen. 5 other crewmen from the McCain, sustained injuries and were taken ashore for medical treatment.

Marines in Osprey aircraft and other search helicopters have been deployed from the USS America – an amphibious assault ship. Singapore Navy and Malaysia Navy search and rescue teams are also participating in the effort, on both sea and in the air.

map of Malaysia and Singapore and the Mallacan Strait, where the two ships collided

The investigation of the incident will raise a series of questions at the Pentagon and from Congress, because the McCain event, will be the fourth mishap since the beginning of the year – all involving guided missile destroyers and all carrying the Aegis missile system, part of the arsenal of defenses purposed to counter a missile launch against the American continent, Guam or our allies in the Pacific.

The U.S.S. Fitzgerald had a similar collision to the McCain, colliding with a container ship off the coast of Japan on June 17 – and prior to that, the U.S.S. Lake Champlain was hit by a fishing vessel while, according to the Navy, conducting “routine operations in international waters.”

In January the U.S.S. Antietam, while attempting to anchor in Tokyo Bay, ran aground.  Of the episode involving the U.S.S. Fitzgerald – in which seven of the Fitzgerald’s crew perished, a statement from the Navy’s 7th Fleet read:

“The collision was avoidable and both ships demonstrated poor seamanship. Within Fitzgerald, flawed watch stander teamwork and inadequate leadership contributed to the collision.”

“Collisions like these are extremely rare and two in one summer, both from 7thFleet based in Japan, is stunning,” said David Larter, a US navy veteran and naval warfare writer. The McCain is named after both Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain’s father and grandfather – both of the Admiral rank. Senator McCain tweeted:


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