WASHINGTON (Dispatches) — The Navy said Thursday it fired the two senior officers of a nuclear-powered attack submarine that was damaged in an underwater collision last month in the South China Sea. A sailor who served as a senior enlisted adviser to the commander and the executive officer was also removed from his position.
The actions were taken by Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, based in Japan.
“Thomas determined sound judgment, prudent decision-making and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution and risk management could have prevented the incident,” according to a 7th Fleet statement.
As a result, the statement said Thomas relieved Cmdr. Cameron Aljilani as commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Cashin as executive officer, and Master Chief Sonar Technician Cory Rodgers as chief of the boat, “due to loss of confidence.” The chief of the boat is the senior enlisted adviser to the commander and the executive officer.
The Navy has yet to publicly explain how or why the USS Connecticut, a Seawolf-class submarine, struck a seamount, or underwater mountain, or to reveal the extent of damage to the vessel.
The incident happened on Oct. 2 but was not reported by the Navy until five days later, well after it had exited the South China Sea. The vessel made its way to Guam for a damage assessment, where it remains.
The 7th Fleet Statement on Thursday also said the sub will return at an unspecified time to Bremerton, Washington for repairs.
China on Tuesday accused the U.S. of a “lack of transparency and responsibility” regarding the accident.
At a daily briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. should provide full details of the incident that has revived a dispute between the two countries over the strategic waterway.
“We once again urge the U.S. to give a detailed account of the accident,” he said.
Wang described what he called a “lack of transparency and responsibility” by the U.S. in following up with the incident.
He said the U.S. has so far failed to offer “a clear explanation” of what the Navy nuclear submarine was doing in the area, as well as “the specific location of the accident, whether it was in another country’s exclusive economic zone or even territorial waters, whether it caused a nuclear leak or damaged marine environment.”
China claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of international trade pass each year. The U.S. insists on maintaining navigation in the waters, reinforcing that with regular military flights and naval patrols and training missions around the region.