U.S. Navy Replaces USS McCain's Commanding Officer

The USS McCain floats out to meet the heavy lift ship Treasure (USN)

By The Maritime Executive 10-12-2017 01:12:07

The U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet has dismissed the commanding officer and executive officer of the damaged destroyer USS John S. McCain. Both men were relieved due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command. 

The McCain collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC on August 21, causing extensive damage to McCain's port quarter, killing 10 sailors and injuring five more. The destroyer has been loaded onto a heavy lift ship for transport to Yokosuka, where she will be repaired at Seventh Fleet's own dockyard. The damage will take about $220 million to fix, according to USNI News. 

"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," Seventh Fleet said in a statement. 

McCain CO Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez has been reassigned to Commander, Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ) and XO Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez has been reassigned to Ship Repair Facility (SRF) Yokosuka. Cmdr. Ed Angelinas, former commanding officer of USS McCampbell, assumed duties as acting commanding officer. Lt. Cmdr. Ray Ball, chief engineer of USS Antietam, will assume duties as acting executive officer.

The dismissals add to the long list of Navy leaders who have departed their posts in the wake of two deadly collisions this year – the McCain incident and the casualty involving her sister ship USS Fitzgerald, which was struck by the container ship ACX Crystal off Yokosuka on June 17. Following the collisions, the Navy dismissed commander of Seventh Fleet Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin; Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams; Destroyer Squadron 15 commodore Capt. Jeffery Bennett; Fitzgerald CO Cmdr. Bryce Benson; and Fitzgerald XO Cmdr. Sean Babbitt. In addition, commander of Pacific Fleet Adm. Scott Swift and commander of naval surface forces Vice Adm. Tom Rowden have announced their intention to retire.

Surveys raise questions about cruiser on front lines of North Korea standoff

A Freedom of Information Act request by Navy Times has uncovered evidence of serious morale and shipboard culture concerns aboard the USS Shiloh, a guided missile cruiser tasked with ballistic missile defense off North Korea. 

According to multiple command surveys, a majority of Shiloh's sailors expressed dissatisfaction with the leadership of commanding officer Capt. Adam M. Aycock, who completed his two-year rotation in August and is now working at the U.S. Naval War College. Among other concerns, Shiloh's sailors alleged that Aycock employed extended detention in the brig as a punishment for minor infractions and created a culture of fear. Less than 25 percent of Shiloh's sailors said that they trusted their vessel's leadership, and only a third said that they felt motivated to put their best effort into the vessel's mission – compared with large majorities under the command of the Shiloh's previous CO. 

USS Shiloh made headlines earlier this year when turbine technician Peter Mims went missing and was presumed overboard, prompting a massive search effort. He later emerged from a hiding place on board, and was relieved of duty and given non-judicial punishment for abandoning his post. Navy Times received word of the problems aboard Shiloh after Mims' disappearance. 

The survey results – and confirmation from the Navy that shoreside commanders were aware of the problems aboard Shiloh – adds to the concerns about the management of Seventh Fleet, which has been rocked by a series of scandals over the past several years. In addition to the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions, a South Korean fishing boat struck the USS Lake Champlaign in May, and the USS Antietam went aground at Yokosuka in January, spilling about 1,100 gallons of hydraulic fluid. The Government Accountability Office has identified persistent training shortcomings, overwork and fatigue among the crews of Seventh Fleet's surface vessels, related in part to the high operational tempo of their mission. 

Beyond its operations, safety, training and morale issues, Seventh Fleet's reputation has suffered in recent years from the far-reaching Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) procurement scandal. Federal prosecutors have charged nearly two dozen Navy officers with directing lucrative port service contracts to GDMA in exchange for luxury goods and illicit services. The Navy defendants include five individuals accused of participating in a “raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes" for officers of the Seventh Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge.