Singapore

Singapore suspends multi-agency search for missing USS John S. McCain sailors

US Navy's 7th Fleet says it will now concentrate on search-and-recovery for missing sailors of destroyer


Search-and-rescue efforts for the missing sailors of the USS John S. McCain were called off yesterday, with the focus shifting to recovery efforts within the US destroyer.

The US Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement yesterday that its efforts will now be focused on search and recovery efforts inside flooded compartments in the ship, after more than 80 hours of search efforts in the areas east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

In response to the US Navy's announcement, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said Singapore decided to suspend the multi-agency search and rescue operation from 9pm yesterday.

The US warship had collided with tanker Alnic MC in Singapore waters on Monday, leaving 10 sailors missing and five injured.

All five sailors have been released to return to the command.

No survivors have been found since the multinational search-and-rescue efforts began.

The US Navy and Marine Corps divers found the remains of several missing sailors when they accessed sealed compartments in the damaged parts of the ship in ongoing operations.

In an earlier update yesterday, the US Navy said a body found by the Royal Malaysian Navy on Tuesday was not that of a USS John S. McCain sailor, and would be returned to Malaysian authorities.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post last night that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) respects the US Navy's decision to suspend search and rescue missions, and will also suspend its own operations, together with the MPA and the Police Coast Guard.

"This has been a tragic event. I know that it has been hard even for seasoned commanders, especially when their men may be lost at sea.

"It will take time for the full recovery of the remains on board the USS John S. McCain.

"But this incident also showed the enormous goodwill and camaraderie that exists among friends."

A statement for Stealth Maritime Corporation, which manages the Alnic MC, said the tanker is discharging its cargo of 12,000 metric tons of fuel oil after being cleared to do so by Singapore authorities.

Although search efforts will now be mostly focused on the damaged destroyer, the task can still be a difficult one.

Experts say divers have to be involved as the USS John S. McCain is too big a ship to be hoisted.

"It has to go into a drydock in a shipyard," said Mr Richard Tan, 59, a former Commanding Officer of the SAF's Naval Diving Unit.

ST understands that Changi Naval Base has a drydock, but it is too small to fit a ship the size of the destroyer.

Mr Kevin Loh, 47, director at commercial diving company Dive Squad, said the damage to the ship, which seemed to be enclosed and partially above the water line, means there is a "high probability" the missing sailors might still be inside.

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