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13.56 23 Aug 2017


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The commander of a US Navy fleet has been dismissed in the wake of a fatal collision between a warship and an oil tanker off Singapore.

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, who headed America's Asia-based 7th Fleet, has been relieved of his duties following the damage to the USS John S McCain.

Remains of some of the 10 sailors missing since the incident have been found in a flooded compartment in the ship.

Malaysian authorities assisting in the search also found a body, but it has not yet been confirmed whether it is a crew member of the guided-missile destroyer.

Officials say they are also expanding the search area for the missing sailors.

Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, announced on Wednesday that Vice Admiral Aucoin had been removed from his post "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command".

Monday's pre-dawn collision involving the USS McCain, which is now docked in Singapore as a recovery operation takes place, has been determined not to have been intentional or the result of sabotage or cyber-intrusion.

It is the fourth major incident in the US Pacific Fleet this year.

In June, seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off Japan.

Last week, the captain of the destroyer was dismissed and other sailors punished for poor seamanship and errors in keeping watch, which were found to have contributed to its fatal collision.

In lesser incidents, the USS Lake Champlain had a minor collision with a South Korean fishing boat in May, while in April the USS Antietam ran aground near the 7th Fleet's home port in Yokosuka, Japan.

On Tuesday, Admiral Swift said: "While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation."

Vice Admiral Aucoin took control of the 7th Fleet - which is made up of 50 to 70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft and around 20,000 sailors - in September 2015 and was due to retire in a few weeks.

At least three of the 10 missing sailors from the USS McCain have been identified by their relatives.

On Tuesday night, US President Donald Trump posted on Twitter: 

The tragedy occurred during a period of heightened tensions between China and the US in the Pacific region.

China's state-run media has claimed the latest incident reveals the risk the US Navy represents to shipping in Asia, amid ongoing territorial disputes.

Beijing has regularly complained about US ships passing close to islands it claims as its own in the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, the USS McCain sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial archipelago built by China.

It was one of the latest moves to counter what Washington views as China's efforts to seize control of contested waters.


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