The US Navy is set to remove the commander of the 7th fleet from duty after four embarrassing incidents this year, including the latest deadly collision of a warship. Multiple media reports have confirmed that the three-star Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin will face an unceremonious exit from his current role and is expected to be formally relieved of his duties on Wednesday, 23 August.
The development comes after USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer, collided with an oil tanker on Monday, 21 August, leaving 10 sailors missing. Earlier in June, another warship USS Fitzgerald was ripped open by a massive container vessel and there were two other lesser known incidents in Asia. Seven sailors were killed in the Fitzgerald collision.
"An expedited change in leadership was needed," an unnamed official told Reuters after the first story about Aucoin's removal was reported by the Wall Street Journal. The US Navy is yet to issue any comment on the matter.
Aucoin became the commander of the 7th fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, in September 2015. He was formerly the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems. Though the top commander, who is also a highly decorated fighter pilot, was expected to retire in a few weeks, his departure has been brought forward due to the developments.
Admiral Scott H Swift, the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet, was earlier reportedly to be flying to Yokosuka from Singapore and is expected to make a formal announcement shortly.
"One tragedy like this is one too many, and while each of these four events is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation. I welcome the broad, comprehensive view announced by the chief of naval operations," Swift said.
According to the US Navy, the 7th fleet has anywhere between 50 and 70 vessels under its radar covering as many as 36 maritime nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. At any given time, at least a dozen ships are likely to be sailing in the waters in the total area of 48 million square miles watched by the fleet.