A US nuclear submarine “struck an object while submerged” in the South China Sea last weekend, the US Navy said, at a time when rival nations are stepping up military activities in the way very busy and contested navigable. Eleven sailors were reportedly injured.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet issued A declaration On Thursday evening, the Seawolf-class fast attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) struck an unknown object “on the afternoon of October 2, while operating in international waters of the Indo-region. peaceful”. The statement said “there are no fatal injuries” to the sailors.
He added that the submarine “remains in a safe and stable condition” with the nuclear power plant and spaces unaffected and fully operational.
While “the extent of the damage to the rest of the submarine is being assessed, the US Navy has not requested assistance” and the incident will be investigated, the fleet said. of the Pacific.
Incidents on warships are often reported after a delay for safety reasons.
The US Naval Institute, an independent forum specializing in US Navy and naval matters, quoted an unnamed US defense official as saying that 11 sailors were injured in the incident in the South China Sea and that the submarine is now heading for the US Pacific island territory of Guam “on the surface”.
The USS Connecticut is said to have conducted routine operations in the area where the US Navy seeks to protect freedom of navigation amid China’s increased maritime claims and activities.
It is not known what object the USS Connecticut struck, and speculation is rife on defense forums. Some say it could be a shipwreck or a sunken container. Others evoke the possibility of a mobile object.
“We will have to wait for the US investigation report, if it ever materializes,” said Collin Koh, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore.
“Until then, we have a lot to speculate about what this unidentified underwater object is. It may actually be an inanimate object such as a shipwreck or even an unexplored seamount, or it may be a moving object such as another submarine or manned drone. “He told RFA.
“In my mind, this collision in the South China Sea would have been inevitable anyway given the escalation of military activity from regional and extra-regional countries in the region,” Koh said.
“The South China Sea, like other coastlines in this region, isn’t exactly the best place to operate submarines, honestly. “
It has been a busy time in the South China Sea, with three aircraft carriers from the United States and the United Kingdom conducting exercises with regional partners. The United States says its activities are aimed at maintaining a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” but China, which claims most of the South China Sea, says it is aimed at countering its growing sea power.
On Friday, a two-week naval exercise called Bersama Gold 21 involving allies of the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia began in the South China Sea.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was “gravely concerned” about the submarine incident and asked the United States “to provide details, the purpose of the cruise and whether it caused a nuclear leak or damaged the marine environment “.
“The United States has long created unrest in the South China Sea in the name of ‘freedom of navigation’, which poses a serious threat and major risks to regional peace and stability. This is the root cause of this incident, ”Zhao said in a transcript on the ministry’s website.
China itself is very selective in advertising its maritime activities in the South China Sea. It has the largest navy in the world, including a dozen nuclear-powered submarines. That number is expected to increase to 21 by 2030, according to the United States Office of Naval Intelligence.
Observers say the South China Sea has become a hotbed of tension between the United States and China and an area of potential conflict between the two powers.
The USS Connecticut is one of three Sea Wolf-class ships that entered service during the Cold War era. It is 107 meters long and can carry around 130 sailors and officers. The home of the submarine is Kitsap-Bremerton Naval Base in Washington State.
The collision was not the first time Connecticut had unexpectedly come into contact with an unknown object. In 2003, after surfacing in a pack ice between the North Pole and Alaska, he was approached by a polar bear.
The bear reportedly stalked the submarine for about half an hour, but only briefly chewed on the rudder and caused no damage.
In 2013, another nuclear submarine, the USS Jacksonville, collided with a fishing vessel in the Persian Gulf and lost one of its periscopes, but no one was injured.
In 2005 near Guam, the submarine USS San Francisco struck a seamount at full speed, killing one sailor and injuring 24 others.
In February 2001, the USS Greeneville, a Navy submarine, accidentally struck the Ehime Maru, a Japanese training vessel for fishing students, in waters near Hawaii, killing nine of the Japanese fishermen.