WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy commander overseeing the fleet that includes the USS John S. McCain was dismissed Wednesday due to a “loss in confidence in his ability to command.”
The Navy’s 7th fleet suffered four major accidents at sea this year while under the command of Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin. Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, relieved Aucoin from his duties at the 7th Fleet headquarters in Yokosuka, Japan.
The command is now being led by Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, who previously served as the Pacific Fleet’s deputy commander.
On Sunday, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain and a Liberian-flagged oil tanker three times its size collided east of Singapore. The collision tore a hole in the ship’s port side hull, flooding crew sleeping quarters, and machinery and communications rooms.
The accident injured five sailors and left 10 missing, some of whom are known to have died after their remains were located in flooded compartments of the ship Tuesday. On Wednesday, divers continued to search the ship for other remains and the search and rescue efforts continued near and spanning outward from the collision site.
Three months before that accident, on June 17, the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, tearing a hole in its starboard side and killing seven sailors.
On May 9, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel in waters off of Asia. On Jan. 31, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay, and leaked up to 1,100 gallons of hydraulic oil into the water.
“While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation,” Swift said Tuesday during a news conference from the Changi Naval Base in Singapore.
Aucoin had been commander of the 7th Fleet since September 2015, and previously served as the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems. The Wall Street Journal first reported his dismissal.
Following the string of accidents, the Navy’s top commander, Adm. John Richardson, announced a one to two month comprehensive review of the training, certifications and operations of Naval forces in the Pacific. In addition, he ordered a one to two day “operational pause” for each of the Navy’s fleets to review any actions that can be taken to immediately improve safety.
About 20,000 sailors serve in the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which includes 50 to 70 ships that operate in 48 million square miles of waters in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The operations encompass 36 maritime countries.