US destroyer crash raises concerns on maritime safety in S. China Sea

By Zhao Huanxin in Washington and Zhang Yunbi in Beijing | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-08-22 11:00

US destroyer crash raises concerns on maritime safety in S. China Sea

The US Navy guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision in Singapore waters on Monday. AHMAD MASOODE / REUTERS

Beijing voiced concerns about "threats or hidden risks" to navigation safety in the South China Sea and related waters following a US destroyer collision on Monday, while a Jane's naval expert questioned whether the tempo of US Navy operations in the region was "too fast".

As a search continues for 10 missing US sailors following the pre-dawn collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker in waters east of the Straits of Malacca, China's Foreign Ministry said it hopes the missing personnel have survived.

"However, we are concerned about the threat and hidden danger posed by the relevant incident to the safety of navigation in the South China Sea and relevant waters," ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Monday afternoon. "We hope that the relevant issue can be handled properly."

Ridzwan Rahmat, a naval expert at Jane's, said initial indications suggested the US warship may not have been obeying rules designed to separate maritime traffic passing through the Singapore Strait, Agence France-Presse reported on Monday.

With the accident coming soon after the "freedom of navigation operation", it raised questions about "whether there is crew fatigue setting in, whether or not the tempo of operations by the US Navy in this region is getting too fast".

"Are they doing too much within this region with North Korea, and Japan and then now in the South China Sea?" Rahmat said, according to AFP.

Teng Jianqun, director of the Department for American Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said the collision occurred during a period in which the US Navy has engaged in "belligerent" sailing in the South China Sea.

Given that the US Navy has often navigated the Straits of Malacca, the incident could indicate potential technical problems with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, Teng added.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday: "Thoughts & prayers are w/ our @USNavy sailors aboard the #USSJohnMcCain where search & rescue efforts are underway."

In Washington on Monday, a top US Navy officer ordered an operational pause be taken by US Navy fleets around the world.

"As you know, this is the second collision in three months and the last of a series of incidents in the Pacific theater," US Navy Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said in a video statement.

In mid-June, the USS Fitzgerald guided-missile destroyer collided with the cargo ship ACX Crystal off Japan, causing the deaths of seven US Navy sailors.

"This trend demands more forceful action. As such, I have directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world."

Richardson told reporters he envisioned the actual duration of the pause in operations for the Pacific-based 7th Fleet to be "one to two days".

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