US Navy sacks commanding officers of crashed submarine

The US Navy has sacked the commanding officers of a nuclear-powered submarine for what it called a complete breakdown in basic seamanship, and disciplined several other crew members in connection with an incident that left the vessel stranded on a shallow reef.

The USS San Francisco ran aground on an island in the South Pacific, near Samoa, on January 8. The submarine was traveling at a depth of about 525 feet when it struck a submerged mountain, which gave way and caused the boat to tilt some 60 degrees.

None of the 137 sailors and officers onboard were injured in the incident, which remains under investigation. A Navy initial report said that at the time, when the boat was just 160 miles from its homeport in Guam, a senior officer failed to notify a junior officer who was supposed to be monitoring depth changes. That allowed the San Francisco to run aground.

The Navy’s Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Cecil Haney , fired the San Francisco’s commanding officer, Commander Kevin Mooney, and his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Joseph Nosse. Vice Admiral Frank Caldwell said that both officers failed to ensure that the boat was at a safe depth before running into danger. The admiral also dismissed the submarine’s navigator and a senior enlisted sailor for poor performance.

Several other sailors were also disciplined in the incident, but Caldwell did not provide details. The admiral said that while lessons learned from this episode would be applied to the entire submarine fleet , the Navy does not expect similar accidents going forward.

The Navy operates its submarine fleet in some of the most unforgiving waters on earth, Caldwell said. We must ensure that our ships can operate safely in these hazardous conditions, and this was a clear failure to meet that standard.

The US has nine nuclear-powered submarines based in Guam, with plans to add more in the next few years.

The San Francisco was repaired in Guam after the accident, costing the Navy about $135 million. It recently returned to its base in Hawaii following a six-month deployment. The submarine’s commanding officer received an official reprimand for the incident but will stay on active duty, Caldwell said.

It has been nearly four decades since a similar incident involving a US submarine , he told reporters.

The Navy has started an inquiry to determine if there were any wider problems throughout the fleet, and Caldwell said other commanding officers would be held accountable if shortcomings emerged.

The incident also attracted attention in Japan, where many saw the accident as a warning over Tokyo’s plan to deploy more US-made missile defense systems on the island of Okinawa. The plan has drawn strong anti-US sentiments and protests, and could fuel further opposition among residents to plans to expand a US air base at Futenma in central Okinawa.

The San Francisco ran aground about 20 kilometers from an undersea reef known as Zamami Island , which is part of the island prefecture that hosts one of Japan’s largest US military bases, Camp Schwab.

The incident followed a string of accidents involving US military aircraft in Okinawa, including an emergency landing there after radar detected smoke coming from the plane’s cargo bay.