Navy fires two officers over USS McCain collision, says deadly accident was ‘preventable’

The USS John S. McCain’s damaged hull is visible while berthed at the Changi Navy Base in Singapore on Aug. 21 2017. (U.S. Navy photo)

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday fired the USS John S. McCain’s top two officers, calling the warship’s deadly August collision with an oil tanker “preventable.”

Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, the McCain’s commander, and Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, its executive officer, were relieved of their duties and reassigned, Navy officials announced in a statement. Both were fired due to a lack of confidence, officials said.

The McCain, a guided-missile destroyer, collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC on Aug. 21 near Singapore. Ten American Sailors died and five others were injured.

“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,” officials said in the Navy’s announcement.

Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, left, the USS John S. McCain’s commanding officer, and Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, the ship’s executive officer, were fired Tuesday for what senior Navy leaders called a lack of confidence following a deadly Aug. 21 collision near Singapore.

The incident is among a series mishaps, including three collisions and a grounding, that have exposed the Navy’s struggle to address widespread leadership shortcomings and an erosion of training standards. Two months prior, the USS Fitzgerald, also a guided-missile destroyer, collided with a container ship in Tokyo Bay.

That accident left seven U.S. sailors dead.

In September, Navy leaders shared with Congress several unsettling facts about the service’s dangerous deployment pace and the role physical exhaustion — some sailors routinely endure 100-hour workweeks, they said — may have played in the two deadly collisions.

Worldwide, demand for Navy assets has soared since the United States went to war in 2001, but its number of ships has been cut by 20 percent since then, officials have said. Faced with persistent threats from North Korea and China’s growing empirical ambitions, U.S. commanders have leaned on the Navy to maintain a steady, robust presence in the Western Pacific in particular.

The McCain and the Fitzgerald both belong to the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is headquartered in Japan, and what befell their crews brings into stark focus how more missions in this region have left the Navy spread thin, hobbled by too few ships and worn-out, undertrained crews.

But speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said that, “At the core, this issue is about command.”

To date, the Navy has fired more than a half-dozen commanders following the four accidents this year, including the 7th Fleet commander, a three-star admiral.

Alex Horton contributed to this report.

More from Checkpoint:

The Navy, stunned by two fatal collisions, exhausts some sailors with 100-hour workweeks

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Deadly Navy accidents in the Pacific raise questions over a force stretched too thin

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