USS John S McCain did not send out automatic identification signals: Singapore authorities

Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: A US warship involved in a collision with a Liberian-flagged oil tanker in Singapore waters did not send out signals about its movements, Singapore authorities said on Thursday (Sep 28).

The Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) – a unit within the Ministry of Transport which looks into air and sea accidents – gave this update about one month after the accident between the USS John S McCain and an oil tanker.

USS John S McCain and Liberian-flagged vessel Alnic MC collided at about 5.30am on Aug 21.

TSIB said it has reviewed the Maritime and Port Authority’s (MPA) Vessel Traffic Information System recordings and found that both vessels showed up on MPA’s radar.

The system pulls together data from various sources like radars and closed-circuit televisions, to present a comprehensive sea situation to officers monitoring maritime traffic.

The system can also capture Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals – which give details such as a ship’s speed and direction – from vessels.

TSIB said on Thursday that it only received AIS signals from Alnic MC, but not from USS John S McCain.

The statement, however, also said: “Mandatory carriage of AIS under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is not applicable to ships of war and troop ships.”

When asked if the AIS signals were turned off on USS John S McCain, US Seventh Fleet public affairs officer Clayton Doss told Channel NewsAsia he could not comment, citing the ongoing investigation.


According to a US Naval Institute report, one of the immediate changes to US Navy fleet operations after recent collisions is that surface fleet ships will now announce their presence in shipping lanes with heavy traffic.

The US will also, for the first time, institute formal rest guidelines for sailors on ships, as part of a sweeping set of new rules based on an internal command message within the US Navy, said the Navy Times.

Following the USS McCain incident, the Navy sacked the commander of its Pacific-based Seventh Fleet, and several other officers and enlisted sailors have been relieved of duty or reprimanded.

The collision left 10 sailors dead and their bodies were found on board the warship, after a one-week search effort led by Singapore.

“All 10 fallen sailors have been returned to the United States where families are making arrangements,” commander Clayton Doss said.

“The families have the full support of the US Navy community in Yokosuka, Japan, where the ship is forward deployed, as well as from US Navy resources in the United States, including representatives who liaison with family members directly.”

The warship – currently moored at Changi Naval Base – is set to leave Singapore in October. It is bound for Yokosuka aboard a heavy lift vessel.

TSIB said it has conducted interviews and gathered relevant information from Alnic MC and its crew, as well as ships in the vicinity at the time of collision. Authorities are still working with the US Coast Guard to collect information from USS John S McCain.

It could take a year before answers as to why and how the vessels collided will surface, the bureau said.


Meanwhile, Singapore authorities are also handling another collision at sea.

Three weeks after the USS John S McCain collision, a separate collision occurred in Singapore waters.

On Sep 13, Indonesian-registered tanker Kartika Segara collided with Dominican-registered dredger JBB De Rong 19 – at about 12.40am.

The collision left two seamen dead and three missing. Singapore agencies are still looking for the missing seamen. Channel NewsAsia understands that the search no longer involves divers.

Despite the recent collisions, maritime experts say Singapore waters are safe, and that accidents cannot be totally prevented.

Resolve Salvage and Fire managing director Anuj Sahai said collisions can occur for many reasons, including situational awareness, tide occurrence, engine breakdowns and fatigue.

“You can control your own ship but you cannot control the other ship. So those things do matter," Captain Anuj said.
Source: CNA/hm

US warship-tanker collision: Findings will be made public
Karamjit Kaur Straits Times 29 Sep 17;

The full findings of Singapore's investigations into the Aug 21 collision of an oil tanker and a United States warship will be made public once it is ready - a process that typically takes up to 12 months.

Responding to media queries yesterday, Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) said that it is looking into all circumstances leading up to the collision, which claimed the lives of 10 American sailors on board the USS John S. McCain.

The bureau is a unit within the Ministry of Transport which investigates air and sea accidents.

To date, it has conducted interviews and obtained information from the Liberian-registered tanker, Alnic MC, and its crew, as well as ships in the vicinity during the collision. It is also working with the US Coast Guard to obtain relevant information from the US warship.

The bureau added that it has reviewed the recordings of the Maritime and Port Authority's (MPA) Vessel Traffic Information System (VTIS), which tracks vessels via radar or the Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals, and enables an alert to be sent to vessels in the event of an impending collision and to get them to change course.

The AIS reveals critical information – like a ship’s location, identity, speed and direction of travel – to other vessels in the area and monitoring stations.

The bureau said it established that the MPA's VTIS "held" both vessels on MPA's radar.

But while the VTIS also received Alnic MC's AIS signal, it did not receive any AIS signal from the US warship.

The bureau added that under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the mandatory carriage of AIS does not apply to ships of war and troop ships.

Soon after the Aug 21 incident, MPA had said that its systems had detected only the oil tanker and not the US warship.

TSIB did not elaborate, but naval experts told The Straits Times that while it is almost impossible for military warships to operate completely in stealth mode at sea, these warships can take steps to weaken radar or sonar detection.

This includes absorbent paint and surfaces angled to reflect signals elsewhere.

In the case of the USS John S. McCain, it is likely that MPA detected only a blip on its VTIS, signalling that something was there.

But without AIS confirmation, MPA was not able to ascertain that the blip was the US warship.

Explained a former Singapore naval officer: "With stealth technology, you can be a huge warship but appear on radar screens as a sampan. The whole point is to move under a cloak of secrecy."

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which has been berthed at Changi Naval Base since the accident, will leave Singapore for Yokosuka, Japan, some time next month, said a spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet. The vessel, which needs further repairs, will be carried by a heavy lift vessel, he said.

Many of the crew members have been here since the collision, assisting with ongoing technical assessments of the damage as well as transit preparations such as placing systems in lay-up maintenance, he added.

The collision - the fourth incident in Asia involving a US warship this year - has raised questions about the US Navy's operations and procedures.

In an appearance before the US Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson said that while the US Navy has for years had AIS on board, the system was rarely used. He said: "One of the immediate actions following these incidents - particularly in heavily trafficked areas - (is that) we're just going to turn it on."

The Aug 21 collision occurred in Singapore territorial waters near Pedra Branca - situated at the eastern entrance to the Singapore Strait - but Malaysia had claimed the incident took place in its waters.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) had in a 2008 judgment awarded sovereignty over Pedra Branca to Singapore and neighbouring Middle Rocks to Malaysia.

But in June, Malaysia filed an application at the ICJ to declare that the waters around Pedra Branca are within its territorial waters.

Singapore has said that it will oppose the bid, which it called unnecessary and without merit.