WASHINGTON: A US nuclear-powered attack submarine struck an object while submerged in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region last week, the Navy said, adding that no life-threatening injuries were reported.
“The submarine remains in a safe and stable condition. USS Connecticut’s nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational,” US Pacific Fleet said in a statement late Thursday, adding the extent of the damage to the multi-billion dollar submarine is being assessed.
The Seawolf class was a product of the Cold War, conceived to maintain the US’s acoustic advantage over Soviet submarines and hunt them down, the Naval Technology website said.
The incident occurred at about the same time of a large training exercise by US allies with three aircraft carriers sailing in the nearby East Philippine Sea.
The exercises were among several gestures toward Taiwan by the Biden administration and its allies in recent days.
The collision occurred on October 2, but was not disclosed until Thursday. A Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said keeping the matter quiet for several days allowed the crew of the USS Connecticut time to travel back to Guam, where the attack submarine is expected to arrive soon. Sailors suffered minor and “moderate” injuries, the official said, without specifying the extent of them.
A US Naval Institute News report, citing an unnamed defence official, said 11 sailors suffered minor to moderate injuries when the submarine hit an unknown underwater object in the South China Sea. The last known incidence of a U.S. submarine striking an underwater object took place in 2005, when the USS San Francisco struck an underwater mountain in a collision that killed one sailor aboard, it said.
The Navy said in its statement that the service has not requested assistance to respond to the mishap, and that it will investigate what happened. The Navy official said it is believed the vessel could have collided with an inanimate object, such as a submerged shipwreck or shipping container.
The Navy said in its statement that the collision occurred “in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region.” The Navy official added that it was in the South China Sea, an area in which the United States has sought to keep open international shipping lanes as China makes territorial claims. It is not believed that China caused the collision, the Navy official said. The Connecticut was monitored by other US vessels in the region as it moved to Guam, the official added.
The collision occurred during a busy time in the Pacific region, with the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, and its escort ships moving through the South China Sea in recent days. The Carl Vinson more recently was spotted in the Philippine Sea, operating with two other aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and the British HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The USS Connecticut is 353 feet long, and typically carries a crew of about 15 officers and 100 enlisted sailors, according to Navy fact sheets. It’s part of the service’s Seawolf class of submarines, a Cold War-era fleet designed to chase Soviet subs. The class was expected to include up to 30 vessels, but only three were built after the Cold War ended and the Pentagon’s priorities shifted, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
China wants details of the incident
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the US should release details of the collision, adding American assertiveness in the region was ultimately to blame. “The US side has been making waves in the South China Sea under the banner of freedom of navigation. This is the source of this accident,” Zhao Lijian, said Friday at a regular news briefing in Beijing.
The Connecticut’s collision comes just weeks after Australia, the UK and the US announced a new security arrangement. The so-called AUKUS pact also created a rift with France, which saw a $66 billion deal to provide Australia conventional submarines voided in favour of a deal for American-made nuclear-powered ships.
“Also this incident has shown that the sales of nuclear submarine through AUKUS to Australia will lead to the dissemination of nuclear technology and materials and intensify regional security risks,” Zhao added.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the deal as a “game changer” for Australian security in the face of China’s military assertiveness, saying it would add to Indo-Pacific stability.