Navy Commander Relieved of Duties After Collisions

Navy Commander Relieved of Duties After Collisions

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin’s exit comes amid the search for 10 missing sailors of the USS John S. McCain.

By Katelyn Newman , Digital Producer, Staff Writer Aug. 23, 2017, at 8:38 a.m.

U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, speaks during a press conference, with damaged USS Fitzgerald as background at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, on June 18, 2017. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

U.S. officials said that U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, is being relieved of duty after a series of ship accidents in the Pacific. (EUGENE HOSHIKO/AP)

U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, has been relieved of his duties following two fatal ship collisions within two months under his command, U.S. officials announced Wednesday.

Aucoin was expected to retire in a few weeks, but Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, relieved him prematurely “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the Navy said in a short statement Wednesday. He will be replaced immediately by Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, who was already confirmed to take over the position following Aucoin’s exit.

Aucoin’s removal was the latest official step after a Navy destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, was traveling to a port in Singapore Monday morning when it was struck by the Alnic MC, a Liberian oil tanker. The destroyer was damaged near its rear on the left-hand side. Ten sailors remain missing, though divers found and are working to identify the remains of some of the sailors.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps divers located some remains during an ongoing search-and-rescue effort into sealed compartments and other damaged parts of the ship, Swift said Tuesday. The Malaysian Navy also reportedly found a body 8 nautical miles northwest of the crash, and is working to identify it. It is expected to send the remains to the U.S. Navy Wednesday.

The collision came two months after a separate U.S. destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, crashed into a freighter off the coast of Japan. Seven American sailors were killed in the incident, and two officers as well as the senior enlisted sailor were relieved of their dutiesFriday following an investigation into the fatal strike.

The Navy announced a rare pause in operations Monday to allow fleet commanders, leaders, command officials and sailors to assess safety measures as investigations continue into the causes of both accidents.

Aucoin, a navy flight officer who received his commission in 1980 from the University of North Carolina Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, has served as a pilot and commander on a number of aircraft carriers and worked for the Pentagon throughout his tenure. He became the commander of the Seventh Fleet in September 2015, according to the Navy.

The 7th Fleet commands as many as 70 ships, 140 aircraft and 20,000 sailors at a time. Headquartered in Japan, it operates from bases in Japan, South Korea and Singapore, “providing security and stability” to a 48 million-square- mile area in the Indo-Asia Pacific.

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