US officials: Navy 7th Fleet commander to be removed

The move follows four Navy accidents in the Pacific since late January

TOKYO (AP) — The commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet will be removed after a series of warship accidents in the Pacific this year, two U.S. officials said Wednesday.

One official said that Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin was being removed because of the leadership’s loss of confidence in his ability to command. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the decision.

The move follows four Navy accidents in the Pacific since late January, including two that left sailors dead and missing.

“While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation,” Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift said late Tuesday. The Navy previously announced a broad review of the Japan-based 7th Fleet’s performance in light of the incidents.

Seven sailors died in June after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off Japan. On Monday, the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker off Singapore, injuring five sailors and leaving 10 others missing.

Swift said at a news conference in Singapore, where the McCain is now docked, that Navy divers had found remains of some of the missing in a flooded compartment in the ship. He also said that Malaysian officials had found a body, but it had not been determined if it was a McCain crew member.

At least three of the 10 missing sailors have been identified by family.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said McCain crew member Logan Palmer is from the Decatur, Illinois, area and his mother identified him as missing.

April Brandon in Michigan said the military informed her that her son, Ken Smith, is missing. She said Smith’s father, stepmother and grandfather served in the Navy. Brandon said, “His father and I couldn’t be prouder of our son.”

The family of Jacob Drake of Ohio was told he was among the missing, the Columbus Dispatched reported. Megan Partlow told The Associated Press that Drake was her fiancee and she’d last had contact with him Sunday in a text message.

The decision to remove Aucoin was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. He assumed command of the 7th Fleet in September 2015. The Navy fleet is based in Yokosuka, Japan.

The pre-dawn collision tore a gaping hole in the McCain’s left rear hull and flooded adjacent compartments including crew berths and machinery and communication rooms.

There were two lesser-known incidents in the first half of the year. In January, the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser ran aground near Yokosuka base, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and in May another cruiser, the USS Lake Champlain from the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, had a minor collision with a South Korean fishing boat.