The accident comes three months after a United States naval destroyer, the U.S.S. McCain, collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, leaving 10 dead. That episode came just two months after a fatal collision between another naval destroyer, the Fitzgerald, and a Philippine merchant vessel off the coast of Japan. Seven people on the Fitzgerald were killed.
The Navy relieved Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the head of the Seventh Fleet, of his command in August. In reports released this month, the Navy’s top admiral said the two destroyer crashes were “avoidable” and had resulted from a string of crew and basic navigational errors.
The weight of repeated tragedy was reflected in comments on the Seventh Fleet’s Facebook page on Wednesday. “This year needs to be over already,” wrote Cadesha Lori Pacquette. “7th fleet can’t handle any more curse.”
Based in Yokosuka, Japan, the Seventh Fleet is the Navy’s biggest and busiest overseas fleet, with 20,000 sailors and 50 to 70 vessels.
Hiroyuki Yamamura, a former commander in Japan’s navy, said that accidents tended to come in succession. “But even so, we have heard of so many accidents this year,” he said. “This year is a bad year.”
Toshiyuki Ito, a professor of crisis management and international relations at Kanazawa Institute of Technology and a retired vice admiral with the Maritime Self-Defense Force, said he suspected the crew of the aircraft might have been exhausted.
“The situation in Asia is becoming tense as well, and they must work more and longer,” he said, adding: “The accidents are caused by human errors. You know, maintenance is also done by people. Even one mistake in the chain of human work towards safety can lead to an accident.”
Wednesday’s accident off Okinawa, where half of the roughly 50,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan are based, followed a car crash on Sunday on the island prefecture, in which a United States Marine driving a military truck collided with a Japanese driver, killing him.
Last month, a transport helicopter made an emergency landing after catching fire in a United States military training area on the northern part of Okinawa. No crew members or civilians were injured.
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