The U.S. Navy says it has dismissed three top commanders of the nuclear-powered submarine that ran aground on an underwater mountain in the South China Sea last month.
A brief Navy statement issued late Thursday said the Oct. 2 accident involving the USS Connecticut was preventable, and Commander of the 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Karl Thomas had relieved the three officers of their duties “due to loss of confidence.”
They are the sub’s Commanding Officer Cmdr. Cameron Aljilani, Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Cashin, and Master Chief Sonar Technician Cory Rodgers, the statement said.
The accident happened at an undisclosed location in the South China Sea. A month-long investigation was completed earlier this week. It concluded that the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine hit an “uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific.” A seamount is a mountain that rises from the sea bed.
Thursday’s statement said: “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.”
Experts said the submarine might have gone too fast at depth in poorly charted waters. Eleven sailors were reportedly injured.
“In most cases of avoidable incidents the commander of the vessel is relieved of duty and mostly this is the end of their naval career,” Alexander Neill, a defense and security consultant based in Singapore, told RFA in an earlier interview.
China has accused the U.S. of a cover-up and lack of transparency over the accident. At a regular press briefing on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged the U.S. to provide a full account of the details of the accident and “stop its provocation,” Reuters reported.
The USS Connecticut is one of three Sea Wolf-class submarines commissioned in the Cold War era. It is 107 meters long and can carry about 130 sailors and officers. It is believed to cost over $3 billion to build.
According to the statement from the U.S. Navy, it remains in Guam while undergoing damage assessment and will return to its home base in Bremerton, Washington state, for repairs.