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Navy fires 3 leaders after submarine’s collision near China

USS Connecticut (SSN 22) file photo. (U.S. Navy/Thiep Van Nguyen II)
November 04, 2021

The U.S. Navy has relieved the three senior leaders of the USS Connecticut (SSN-22), the U.S. Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine that ran into an underwater mountain in the South China Sea last month, injuring 11 sailors and forcing the submarine to limp back to port in Guam.

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy announced U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Karl Thomas reached the decision to relieve the USS Connecticut’s commanding officer Cmdr. Cameron Aljilani, executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Cashin and Chief of the Boat Cory Rodgers.

In announcing its decision to relieve the three senior leaders of the submarine, the Navy described a “loss of confidence” in the leaders.

“Thomas determined sound judgement, prudent decision-making, and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution and risk management could have prevented the incident,” the Navy statement read.

Following the command relief, the Navy said Capt. John Witte will assume duties as interim Commanding Officer. Cmdr. Joe Sammur will assume duties as interim Executive Officer and Command Master Chief Paul Walters will assume duties as interim Chief of the Boat.

The reported relief of command for the submarine’s commanding and executive officers and the chief of the boat comes after the U.S. 7th Fleet announced its initial findings that the submarine struck an uncharted underwater mountain, known as a seamount, on October 2.

“The investigation determined USS Connecticut grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region,” a Monday 7th Fleet statement said.

The 7th fleet said it would “determine whether follow-on actions — including accountability — are appropriate.”

The October 2 collision is not the first time a U.S. submarine has struck an uncharted underwater mountain. In January 2005, the Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine USS San Francisco (SSN-711) crashed into an uncharted seamount about 360 nautical miles southeast of Guam. That crash resulted in the death of one sailor and injury to 98 of its 130-person crew, We Are The Mighty reported.

Following this latest incident with the USS Connecticut, China demanded the U.S. provide answers about the U.S. submarine’s operating location and what it was doing when it suffered its underwater collision.

Within hours of the Navy first revealing the submarine collision on October 7, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China is “gravely concerned” and called on the U.S. to reveal precisely where the accident took place.

“As the party involved, the US should clarify in specific details what happened, including the exact location of the incident, the US side’s navigation intention, the details of the incident, the object the submarine struck, whether the collision caused a nuclear leak or damaged local marine environment, et cetera,” Zhao said.

Thus far the Navy has said the USS Connecticut’s nuclear reactor and propulsion system were not damaged in the collision.

“USS Connecticut’s nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational,” the Navy said.

The submarine is currently undergoing repairs in Guam and the Navy is still determining how to repair the submarine enough for it to safely leave Guam for more-extensive follow-up repairs.