Navy removes commander of 7th Fleet after string of accidents

PHOTO: Pictured through a window frame, the U.S. Navy missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is towed into the Changi Navy Base off the eastern coast of Singapore, Aug. 21, 2017. PlayEPA
WATCH Navy removes commander of 7th Fleet after string of accidents

The U.S. Navy has relieved from duty the three-star admiral in charge of the U.S. 7th Fleet after a string of four accidents this year that includes this week's deadly collision of the destroyer USS John S. McCain with an oil tanker off Singapore.

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According to a statement from the Navy, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, has been relieved of duty due to a "loss of confidence in his ability to command." Aucoin was relieved of command by Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, on Wednesday in Japan.

Ten sailors are missing from the McCain's collision. Earlier on Tuesday, Navy divers found some of their remains inside the ship's flooded sleeping compartments. The collision comes two months after the USS Fitzgerald's deadly collision with a container ship that killed seven sailors.

News of Aucoin's being relieved of command was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Aucoin was already slated to retire in September and turn over command of the 7th Fleet to Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer. But his relief from command shows the Navy’s focus on accountability in the wake of the incidents this year involving the USS John S. McCain, USS Fitzgerald, USS Lake Champlain and the USS Antietam.

The Navy's statement on Wednesday confirmed Sawyer will take over command immediately.

"I support Adm. Swift's decision to bring in new leadership to 7th Fleet," Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said in a statement. "The new 7th Fleet commander must help move his team forward, focusing efforts on safe and effective operations."

The collision involving the USS McCain is just the latest in a string of mishaps for the U.S. Navy that have taken place in the Pacific.

The USS Fitzgerald collided in mid-June with a Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Japan in June, killing seven sailors.

In May, the USS Lake Champlain, a guided missile cruiser, collided with a fishing boat in the Sea of Japan. There were no injuries. In this case, the Navy ship tried to alert the fishing boat prior to the collision, but it was too late.

And in February, the USS Antietam, also a guided missile cruiser, ran aground off the coast of Japan, damaging its propellers and spilling oil into the water.

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