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Damaged US submarine that struck underwater mountain near China limps back to harbor in CA

USS Connecticut (SSN 22) file photo. (U.S. Navy/Thiep Van Nguyen II)
December 15, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The nuclear fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut which got into an accident while operating in the South China Sea in early October appears to have suffered damage to its bow.

Ship spotters have been sharing photos of the sub pulling into the San Diego harbor in California on Sunday morning.

The U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) news portal has previously said that the USS Connecticut’s ballast tanks and forward section were damaged.

It’s difficult to tell from the pictures but military watchers say it appears that there is a temporary cover over the bow where the submarine’s sophisticated sonar is located. That means the ship has transited from the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, where it underwent preliminary assessment and repairs, entirely on the surface as it would be dangerous for it to travel underwater.

USNI News said several anonymous Navy officials confirmed the surface transit of 6,182 miles (9,950 kilometers).

On Oct. 2, the Seawolf-class submarine hit an uncharted seamount during a dive in the South China Sea.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet waited for five days after the incident before issuing a statement, leading to China’s criticism that the U.S. was trying to cover it up. The Pentagon denied that.

The statement said the USS Connecticut was in “international waters in the Indo-Pacific region” when the accident happened and there were no life-threatening injuries to the sailors.

Beijing, however, demanded to know the exact location, while some Chinese sources said the USS Connecticut was spotted in waters off the Paracel Islands on Oct. 3, one day after the reported collision.

Analysts say China played up the incident in retaliation to the announcement of the AUKUS – an Australia-U.K.-U.S. trilateral security pact — that is widely viewed as a pushback against growing Chinese military power in the region.

Commanders dismissed

A month-long probe into the collision led to the dismissal of three top commanders of the USS Connecticut “due to loss of confidence.” The Navy also ordered submarine forces to hold a “navigational stand down,” or a review of navigational safety procedures.

It is unclear whether the sub will remain in San Diego or transit to its home base in Bremerton, Washington state, for repair.

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 around 130 sailors and officers. It is believed to have cost over $3 billion to build.

The U.S. Navy has around 70 submarines, all nuclear-powered.