MELBOURNE, Australia – The multinational search and rescue for sailors missing from the U.S. Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain following a collision with an oil tanker near Singapore has expanded, even as remains of some of the missing have been located inside the flooded compartments of the ship.
Both Singapore and Malaysia have increased the number of assets taking part in the SAR operations for the 10 sailors initially reported missing following the collision, while Indonesia has also started scouring the waters off its islands closest to where the collision occurred. Australia has also offered an aircraft to assist in the search, according to a media statement from Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority on Tuesday.
The new, expanded search area covers more than 1,100 square miles, with Singapore and the U.S. covering the center of the identified search area while Malaysian and Indonesian assets are covering the north and south.
The collision occurred in waters where there is an unresolved maritime boundary dispute between Singapore and Malaysia, and both have said the collision occurred in their respective territorial waters and have laid claim to leading the search operation. That said, the disagreement has not interfered with the search operation so far.
U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopters and Marine Corps MV-22 tiltrotors from the amphibious assault ship USS America are also involved in the search, while the Republic of Singapore Air Force has deployed a C-130 transport and a Fokker 50 maritime patrol aircraft to join two patrol vessels each from the Singapore Navy and police coast guard already on scene. A Singaporean Super Puma helicopter had earlier evacuated four of the five sailors injured in the collision to a hospital on Monday morning.
Malaysia has also contributed ships and aircraft from its armed forces and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency in the search. A Royal Malaysian Navy patrol vessel, the KD Handalan, found a body on Tuesday afternoon local time, approximately eight nautical miles west of the site of the USS John S. McCain’s collision.
Speaking to media at Changi Naval Base in Singapore where the John S. McCain is now berthed, Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift said the body will be handed over to the U.S. Navy for identification, and has not yet been identified as a sailor from the damaged ship. Swift also disclosed that divers scouring the flooded compartments have located an unspecified number of human remains.
The USS America is also currently at Changi Naval Base, where she is providing messing and berthing services to John S. McCain crew members and supporting damage control efforts on board which are focused on dewatering the ship and restoring auxiliary systems.
The John S. McCain collided with the oil tanker Arinc MC near the entrance of the Singapore Straits east of Singapore in the early hours of Monday as she was headed to the Southeast Asian island nation for a port visit. The Yokosuka-based Arleigh Burke-class destroyer was badly damaged in the collision, which resulted in several flooded compartments on board due to the hole that was punched in her port side.