WASHINGTON – The Navy has relieved the two top officers of the destroyer USS John S. McCain two months after it collided with a Liberian-flagged oil tanker while transiting to Singapore, killing 10 sailors on board and injuring five others.
The commanding officer, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez, “exercised poor judgment” and the executive officer, Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez, “exercised poor leadership of the ship’s training program,” the Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan said in a Tuesday statement.
The officers were formally relieved of their duties by Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, Commander of the Seventh Fleet, on Wednesday.
An investigation into the Aug. 21 early-morning incident is ongoing, but “it is evident the collision was preventable,” the Seventh Fleet said. Both officers were removed due to “a loss of confidence.”
The USS John S. McCain crash marked the fourth major incident involving Navy ships in the western Pacific over the past year, including the June 17 collision of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged container ship southwest of Yokosuka, Japan that left seven sailors dead.
Repairs to the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald are reportedly expected to cost about $220 million and $370 million respectively.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the former head of the Seventh Fleet, was removed in August in connection with the accidents. The Navy’s head of surface forces, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, said last month that he would retire early.
The commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, Adm. Scott Swift, said last month he would retire early after being notified that he was not in the running to lead the U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees all U.S. military operations in the Pacific.
Following the spate of accidents, the head of the Navy, Adm. John Richardson, ordered a one day fleet-wide pause in operations to review any possible immediate changes. He also ordered a comprehensive review of the training, certifications and operations of Naval forces in the Pacific, which is expected to be complete in the next several weeks.