SINGAPORE: A search and rescue operation is under way for 10 US sailors after a US warship and an oil tanker collided off the coast of Singapore on Monday morning (Aug 21).
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain collided with merchant vessel Alnic MC east of Singapore at around 5.30am. The warship was heading to Singapore for a routine port call, the US Navy said in a statement.
Five US sailors were injured in the collision - four were evacuated by helicopter to the Singapore General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, while the fifth did not need further medical attention, the statement said.
No crew members on the oil tanker were injured, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen confirmed the collision in a Facebook post, which he said happened in Singapore's territorial waters.
The MPA is leading the search and rescue operation, Dr Ng said, adding that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has also been mobilised after it responded to the US Navy's request for assistance from the Republic of Singapore Navy.
"From the SAF, two Patrol Vessels, RSS Gallant and RSS Resilience; one Frigate, RSS Intrepid; two Super Pumas and one Chinook helicopter are assisting in the efforts. RSN’s RSS Resilience is currently escorting USS John S McCain back to Changi Naval Base," he said.
In Facebook posts on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan said that their thoughts are with the families of those missing and injured in the collision.
MALAYSIA DEPLOYS VESSELS, AIRCRAFT
In response to Singapore's statement that the collision occurred in its waters, Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin told reporters the incident happened "in our waters seven miles from Johor coast", and Kuala Lumpur had sent vessels to assist.
Indonesia said it had also sent two aircraft and two warships to assist from its nearby Riau Islands.
NO OIL SPILL, TRAFFIC UNAFFECTED
MPA, which is investigating the incident, said traffic in the Singapore Strait was unaffected and there were no reports of oil pollution.
The US warship had made its way to Changi Naval Base by Monday afternoon under its own power, the US Navy said in an update.
Significant damage to the hull had resulted in flooding to nearby compartments including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms, it said, adding that crew members were able to halt further flooding.
Video footage from the Singapore Strait showed an area of impact about 6m wide on the port side.
The Alnic, a 183-metre long Liberian-flagged oil or chemical tanker of 50,760 deadweight tonnes, sustained damage to its forepeak tank 7m above the waterline, according to MPA.
According to an Alnic crew member, the tanker was carrying nearly 12,000 tonnes of fuel oil from Taiwan to discharge in Singapore.
"We have not discharged the tanker yet," the crew member who did not want to be identified, told Reuters via telephone.
"We are proceeding to Raffles Reserved Anchorage where the owners will investigate the matter. There was some damage to the valve."
Shipping data showed Alnic last sent a transponder signal at 6.58am. The ship data showed it was "ballasting", meaning that it was not loaded full of oil for cargo.
According to VesselsValue, which provides shipping and maritime data, the Alnic is owned by a Greek company Brave Maritime and is reportedly worth US$17.36 million (S$23.6 million).
SECOND US WARSHIP COLLISION IN TWO MONTHS
The McCain is the second US guided-missile destroyer to be involved in a collision in two months. In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippines container ship off the coast of Japan, killing seven navy sailors. The two senior officers and the senior enlisted sailor on the Fitzgerald were removed after the incident.
The USS Fitzgerald and USS John S McCain are both ballistic missile defence (BMD) capable ships and part of the same Japan-based destroyer squadron. The Seventh Fleet has six ships assigned to BMD patrols, with half of those out on patrol at any one time.
Asked whether the US Navy would need to bring forward other ships to maintain its strength, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet said it was "way too early to know".
The US warship in Monday's incident was commissioned in 1994 and named after US Republican Senator John McCain's father and grandfather, John S McCain Jr and Sr. Both men were highly decorated naval officers who played prolific roles during World War II.
"Cindy & I are keeping America's sailors aboard the USS John S McCain in our prayers tonight - appreciate the work of search & rescue crews," Senator McCain said on Twitter.
Additional reporting by Kenneth Lim and Sumisha Naidu.