The US Navy intends to remove Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin as the commander of the US 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan, a US official has told CNN.
This follows an incident Monday in which the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship.
Ten sailors assigned to the ship were missing following the accident, and the Navy has reported that “some” remains have been recovered, Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said Tuesday.
The McCain and the tanker ship collided Monday east of the Malacca Strait, the fourth time a US warship has been involved in an accident in Asian waters this year.
US Navy and Marine Corps divers found the remains in the sealed compartments aboard the McCain after it docked at a naval base in Singapore, said Swift. US military divers continue to search the flooded areas of the McCain.
The Royal Malaysian Navy has located one body at sea, and officials are working to determine whether it is one of the missing sailors, he said. Ships and planes are scouring the seas east of Singapore.
“Until we have exhausted any potential of recovering survivors or bodies, the search and rescue efforts will continue,” Swift said.
The White House expressed its “great sadness” about the incident. “As the Navy begins the process of recovering our fallen sailors, our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and friends,” the statement said.
A statement from the 7th Fleet did not address the potential dismissal of Aucoin, but said that the McCain’s sailors were “trying to regain some stability.”
As well as providing material support from the amphibious assault ship the USS America, the 7th Fleet statement said that the Navy was providing mental health support and other counseling and medical resources.
“Although most people will spontaneously emotionally recover, there may be some that experience significant psychological distress and may need attention from mental health professionals,” Lt. Cmdr. Carlos Coleman, Medical Service Corps said. “We want to do everything we can to help them manage the stress of this tragic event.”
The McCain suffered a steering failure as the warship was beginning its approach into the Strait of Malacca, before colliding with the tanker, a Navy official told CNN.
The official said it was unclear why the crew couldn’t use the ship’s backup steering systems to maintain control.
Reporters on Tuesday asked about the possibility that the McCain could have had its computer systems compromised.
Swift said that, while there were “no indications of that as of yet … we are not taking any consideration off the table and every scenario will be reviewed and investigated in detail.”
Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations had previously indicated on Twitter that the possibility of a cyberattack, however slight, would be investigated.
The collision prompted the Navy to order a rare, one-day operational pause.
The pause is a one-day, safety stand-down that would be done at the discretion of individual commands, a US defense official told CNN. It will be done rotationally, with units standing down for a 24-hour period, so as to minimize the effect on operational capability.
Swift said the Pacific Fleet will complete the operational pause by next Monday.
Aucoin’s role has come under scrutiny since a spate of incidents in the Pacific theater, including another at-sea collision between a US Navy destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, and a cargo ship off Japan’s Izu Peninsula.
“This trend demands more forceful action,” Richardson said.
The Fitzgerald incident, on June 17, caused the deaths of seven US sailors.
Speaking shortly after that incident, Aucoin told reporters, alongside the ship at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, that the loss of sailors under his command “is something we all feel.”
“We have found a number of the remains … of our missing shipmates, and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those shipmates,” he said.
Findings in that investigation suggested the accident was caused by multiple errors by the Fitzgerald’s crew and a failure to take action in the minutes leading to the collision, according to two defense officials.