Navy removes top McCain officers after 'preventable' collision

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The following is the text of a news release from the United States Naval Institute (USNI):

(WASHINGTON) — The commander and executive officer of the guided-missile destroyer that was struck by a merchant oil tanker off the coast of Singapore on Aug. 21 were removed from their positions, a U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman told USNI News late Tuesday.

USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) commander Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez and executive officer Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez were removed from their positions by U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, “due to loss of confidence.”

The removals are a result of an ongoing investigation into the collision that cost the lives of 10 sailors and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to the ship.

“While the investigation is ongoing, it is evident the collision was preventable, the commanding officer exercised poor judgment, and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship’s training program,” read a statement provided to USNI News. “Cmdr. A. Sanchez was reassigned to commander, Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ) and Cmdr. J. Sanchez was reassigned to Ship Repair Facility (SRF) Yokosuka. Cmdr. Ed Angelinas, former commanding officer of USS McCampbell (DDG 85), assumed duties as acting commanding officer. Lt. Cmdr. Ray Ball, chief engineer of USS Antietam (CG 54), will assume duties as acting executive officer.”

The two officers are the seventh and eighth to lose their positions as a result of ongoing accountability actions following the collisions of McCain and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) that resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors.

Former U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin was removed weeks short of his planned retirement shortly after the McCain collision. The command triad of Fitzgerald — commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson, executive officer Cmdr. Sean Babbitt and command master chief CMC Brice Baldwin — were removed from their positions two months after that destroyer’s fatal collision.

Last month, Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Combined Task Force 70, and Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, were removed from their commands as a result of ongoing accountability actions into the two collisions.

News of the removals comes as McCain began its transit to the U.S. Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan to begin planned repairs. According to a Navy cost estimate of the repairs obtained by USNI News, fixing McCain will cost about $223 million and take about a year.

In addition to the investigations into the individual collisions of McCain and Fitzgerald, U.S. Fleet Forces commander Adm. Phil Davidson is leading a Navy-wide investigation. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer is also leading a separate investigation into the incidents.

By Professional Mariner Staff