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Search for Missing U.S. Sailors Slowed by Extensive Damage to Vessel

A Malaysian Navy vessel found a body at sea on Tuesday, but it turned out to be the decomposed corpse of an elderly man and was unrelated to the collision, the United States Navy said.

The McCain had been on patrol in the South China Sea and was headed to Singapore for a routine port visit on Monday when it collided with the Alnic MC, a chemical and oil tanker about three times the destroyer’s size.

The pre-dawn collision occurred as the McCain was preparing to enter the narrow Singapore Strait, which is typically crowded with commercial vessels. The Alnic suffered a gash to its bow above the waterline, but there was no leakage of its cargo into the sea. Both ships docked in Singapore after the collision.

Edward Ion, a spokesman for Stealth Maritime Corporation, the owner of the commercial ship, declined to discuss what might have caused the collision.

“We don’t want to do anything that will deflect from their terrible predicament,” he said. “We are reserving great regret for the American Navy side.”

The collision added to a series of accidents involving ships from the Seventh Fleet, including a collision in June between the destroyer Fitzgerald and a cargo ship that claimed the lives of seven sailors.

The McCain collision prompted the removal of Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin as commander of the Seventh Fleet this week, as well as a global review of Navy safety and operational procedures.

In the case of the Fitzgerald, also a guided-missile destroyer, seven crew members had initially been reported as missing. Divers began finding bodies in the ship’s flooded berthing compartments the day after the accident.

In the McCain case, the search is taking longer because the damage to the vessel appears to be more extensive. According to one Navy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because investigations were underway, the Alnic appears to have hit the McCain nearly head-on, whereas the Fitzgerald suffered more of a glancing blow.

For now, finding the missing sailors is the priority, said Cmdr. Clayton Doss, a Seventh Fleet spokesman.

“Anything else out there is purely speculative,” he said. “The investigation is going to be thorough and it will tell us what happened and why it happened. It is going to take some time to conduct the investigation thoroughly.”

Source: NYT > World

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