US Navy crashes reveal absence of vigilance

By Li Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/27 17:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Seventh Fleet commander Joseph Aucoin was sacked on Wednesday last week in the wake of the deadly collision involving the USS John S. McCain. The immediate reason for his removal was the four successive accidents the Fleet has experienced since January this year when several vessels collided with other ships or the land. In addition, naval officials have reportedly gone missing and several fighter planes crashed.

Besides dismissing Aucoin and arranging his successor, the US Navy also announced an "operational pause" for all of its fleets around the globe and said it hoped to restart operations within a few days.

The navy hasn't announced any reasons for the recent spate of accidents. Some media outlets have made excuses such as the small number of warships in the Fleet leading to "fatigue driving." Some even irresponsibly said that it was due to "cyber-attacks from China." But it is not difficult for a reasonable person to find the real cause.

First, American naval vessels are under lax management and lack vigilance. Most of this year's accidents happened near dawn when a majority of sailors were tired. The crew of the most recent vessel involved in a crash was not an exception. Strict management requires staff on board to keep on alert and carefully observe the situation.

But one senior navy officer said that the night duty staff members on a destroyer like the McCain are mainly in their early 20's. Problems happen if there are no experienced senior officials keeping an eye on them.

Second, the navigation, hydrological and meteorological conditions are not good in Yokosuka or in Singapore Port, especially so near the latter. About 80,000 to 90,000 ships visit Singapore Port annually, 200 to 300 ships per day. In such a bustling channel, it is easy for some large or super-large oil tankers to miss warships like Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

In addition, the narrowest channel near Singapore Port is only 2.5 kilometers wide and the waves were 1.5 meters high when last week's accident happened. All these factors combined created the conditions for the accident.

The vessels of the world's most modern navy, with high-tech equipment and sophisticated technology on board, should pass through any waterway smoothly. But the reality was not so. That fully demonstrates that even the most advanced equipment only works as well as the person operating it.

Of course, the Aegis system is not operated around the clock as this consumes considerable power resources and seriously affects the voyage. It also lacks the ability to detect targets on the sea surface or at low altitude. So when they venture into waters near harbors, vessels usually rely on a lookout man's careful observations and the direction of commander rather than radar to detect dangers.

But the fundamental reason for the frequent accidents lies in the US' "hegemony mentality." US vessels consider all seas, channels and ports their backyard through which they can come and go freely. Even when accidents happen, the US does not take it seriously. With such a mentality, no wonder accidents happen so easily.

The Chinese Navy has made great progress. Due to the expansion of China's national interests and the need to maintain safe transport routes, Chinese naval vessels have become increasingly present in major waters around the globe and are bound to enter the ports and bases of other countries. It is inevitable that the Chinese Navy will figure out how to "keep our shoes dry while walking along the riverside."

China doesn't have the "hegemony mentality" like the US does, and will maintain "strong but not hegemonic" when it grows more powerful. Reasonable systems, strict management and effective measures will be adopted by our naval vessels.

Especially when entering the busy ports of other countries, the crew of Chinese vessels must keep high vigilance and a sense of responsibility, fully use cutting-edge technologies and closely observe real-time hydrological and meteorological conditions.

The author is a Beijing-based naval expert.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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