US Navy to relieve 7th Fleet commander after latest collision

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Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the US 7th Fleet, delivers a speech during a press conference in front of the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald at US Navy Yokosuka Base, southwest of Tokyo on June 18, 2017.
A number of missing American sailors have been found dead in flooded areas of a destroyer that collided with a container ship off Japan’s coast, the US Navy said on June 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Kazuhiro NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The US Navy intends to remove Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin as the commander of the US 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan, according to a US official. This follows an incident Monday in which the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship.

Ten sailors assigned to the ship were missing following the accident, and the Navy has reported that “some” remains have been since recovered, Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said Tuesday.

The McCain and the tanker ship collided Monday east of the Malacca Strait, the fourth time a US warship has been involved in an accident in Asian waters this year.

The collision prompted the Navy to order a rare, one-day operational pause.

“This trend demands more forceful action,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said. Swift said the Pacific Fleet will complete the operational pause, in which units rotate in standing down for a 24-hour period, by next Monday.

US Navy and Marine Corps divers found the remains in the sealed compartments aboard the McCain after it docked at a naval base in Singapore, said Swift. The Royal Malaysian Navy has located one body at sea, and officials are working to determine whether it is one of the missing sailors, he said.

Aucoin’s role has come under scrutiny since a spate of incidents in the Pacific theater, including another at-sea collision between a US Navy destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and a cargo ship off Japan’s Izu Peninsula.

That accident, on June 17, caused the deaths of seven US sailors.

Speaking shortly after that incident, Aucoin told reporters, alongside the ship at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, that the loss of sailors under his command “is something we all feel.”

“We have found a number of the remains … of our missing shipmates, and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those shipmates,” he said.

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