USS J McCain / Alnic MC collision near Singapore


If there was a steering problem, causing the JSM to suddenly veer into the path of the tanker at high speed, no amount of AIS would have helped here.
I do agree that the paranoia with not being detected is causing a lot of problems for the USN. First they spend a lot of money on being as small a radar target as possible, run dark except for nav. lights and without AIS signals, then they appears to believe that others have to stay out of their way and doesn’t follow normal navigation rules.

Since they are not at war with any maritime powers at the moment they should not have anything to fear from being detected by other vessels in their vicinity. As others have pointed out, anybody interested in their movements can get that from any number of sources.


I cannot understand the USN mentality.

Merchant ships always go from A to B and the Master has informed concerned parties the ETA at B after departing A. The trajectory from A to B is known in detail. Nothing magic. There is normally only one watch keeper on the bridge at sea that always can ask for assistance.

USN ships have no commercial restraints.

To avoid all problems USN should simply avoid commercial ships at sea and their fairways and always pass behind them or well away, when meeting. USN should simply issue a standing order to forbid the USN ships to pass ahead of a merchant ship anywhere.


The collisions happened. Has anyone with actual information pointed to AIS as a factor in the collision? Seems to me that we’re cranky because we want to see the Navy ship’s track and we can’t. Which isn’t strictly speaking the Navy’s problem.

Which is not to say that Navy policies on transmitting AIS can’t or shouldn’t be revisited, and I’m sure they will be.


The answer to that rhetorical question is no, apart from the self-evident conclusion that AIS is an aid to navigation and that informing nearby vessels of your location and identity in a standard way can only help lower the possibility for a collision when transiting busy waterways.

Obviously we want to see the Navy’s track, why wouldn’t we. Another way to say that is that it seems like the Navy would publish their ships’ tracks in either of these collisions if they somehow helped make the Navy look better. A skeptic might suspect that the Navy is withholding information in order to save face, rather than for any legitimate reason.


AIS would have been quite an advantage to the merchant ships: Ability to call the NAVY ship by assumed name “US Warship 1”, or whatever, to make passing arrangements. Having the ship come up early on AIS and the ECDIS with a course no speed vector at perhaps 20 miles would be an advantage. AIS would alert the merchant to look for a small radar signature ship on the radar at a specific location to start an ARPA plot.

I still believe that there are a lot of ships steaming around with only one person on the bridge, that has other duties , I.e. “paperwork”, and that they are over reliant on AIS, and not keeping a sharp visual and radar watch.

The Navy should now have the message loud and clear that there are huge risks to steaming through crowded waters without experienced watch officers, operational AIS Transponders, and being adequately lit.

It should be obvious that the navigational risks of operating without AIS exceed the security risks of using it.


The US Navy says that the cause of the accident was, as they call it, a ‘steering casualty’. I donot understand this as probably the steering gear is made redundant and the reserve gear probably can be activated with the flip of a switch.

Meanwhile the Chinese are applauding the incident in which probably ten sailors died. What are you doing on our doorstep etc? Very emphatic and nice.


If an overtaking ship sails too close to the ship being overtaken, the hydrodynamic “cushion” effect could entail that the overtaking ship experiences what appears as “loss of steering”, and subsequently becomes rammed by the ship being overtaken


And what exactly is the “security risk” of transmitting AIS while transiting a shipping lane while making an innocent passage?

The only risk to the Navy is that the world will be able to reconstruct the movements leading up to whatever event the Navy would like to hide from scrutiny. The only “security” issue I can see is that of some admiral’s career.


They would have to be really close, like too close in the first place.


Exactly so.


Yeah, but what is “too close” depends on the speed, and the size of the vessels.


Texas Chicken is too close, but in the hands of professional’s who do it a dozen times a day is no big deal. Texas Chicken on the open ocean with people who have maybe done it in a simulator once is “too close.” Any universally acceptable CPA (i.e 1 nm) shouldn’t have any real effect on the movement of either vessel. Even at 0.5nm. Any closer than that…too close.

Plus that YouTube clip is showing shallow water and a narrow channel, where the interaction effect is much greater. Deep, ocean sea passages shouldn’t have nearly the same effect.


Why the focus on personnel, but very little effort on the hierarchy of accident progression from the immediate cause back to fundamental root causes and system failures? Rarely, you will get through an incident investigation without changing a process or procedure. Certainly, people must be held accountable, but corrective actions are not just adding new people. Then, train them in the same manner while following the same system with the same organizational structure and expect something to change.

Navigation is not rocket science, but if you have a spectrum of duties with one of those duties being adherence to COLREGs, and at the same time COLREGs is pretty defenitive on watchkeeping being your ONLY duty, there is an issue here. You can do much more with better effeciency, with less moving parts while increasing situational awareness in my opinion. The US Navy needs to look no further than themselves beginning with their convoluted navigation command structure.

Hell, even China is taking notice that instead of developing advance capabilities to overwhelm Aegis, they can just build a fleet of tankers and take out the US Navy in a week.


Steering casualty…? When I was on a MSC ship in 1978 or so, we were very close to Singapore and the helmsman announced “Captain, we lost steering”. Capt took the wheel and agreed. So, he told the ER to do something with the two props and said to signal a steering loss with the horn. Mate pulled the cord and…horn stuck open. Really loud. Capt said send up signal flags…Proper flags not in box. Slight panic. Lots of ships nearby.

Meanwhile CE had someone go to the steering gear compartment to see what’s what. Found that someone, as in wiper, had been in there a minute before steering lost…and inadvertently moved a valve to the closed position as he went by. So, valve was opened and all was well. It did take 10 minutes to shut down the ship’s horn. Valve handle was re-adjusted to another position.

Probably 15 minutes, start to finish. Captain and helmsman were wringing wet after this. This was in mid-day.


They had a loss of steering immedietly before the collision.


Agree, merchant rules not only stipulate 100% redundancy for steering systems but also power/ control cabling must be routed through separate and widely spaced trunking and steering motors do not have overload cut outs etc. Having said that I had a vessel that suddenly veered off course for no apparent reason. We later found out because the vessel was rolling heavily the autopilot switched from GPS mode to mag compass mode -the only trouble was that the mag compass sensor was out by …er …180 deg. Whoops!


A couple of things, maybe simpler. Is the OOD going out on the wing of the bridge and looking around? Frequently? These were both stealth ships, as in very very poor radar targets. Did they have a radar reflector up during these transits? A big radar target? The poor merchant ship mate is looking at the radar for his situational awareness and a tiny little spot on his radar looks very different from a 150 meter long warship. He may have seen a little dot on his screen and interpreted it as some junk on the water to be plowed through. He is used to a big thing providing a big return on his radar and the DDG-51 class does no such thing. A combination of factors, such as the OOD concerning himself mainly with getting his junior officers through their qualifications, and a too small or non existent radar reflector is all that is needed to account for these tragedies.
Regards, Fox sends.


Many press reports of a “Navy source” citing steering issue, which may be true. However, all versions of this “statement” that I have seen consist of 3 common details and not much else:
-loss of steering
-while entering Malacca Straits
-steering later restored.
Since Malacca Straits are on the opposite side of Singapore as a “Navy source” ought to know, how reliable is this much-repeated “statement”, and where did it first come from?


Latest from CNA:
Nothing said about steering failure.

The complete news conference here:


By coincident the annual Safety@sea week in Singapore was held at the same time:
Don’t know if the USN was represented at the event though.