The U.S. Navy relieved Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet, Wednesday due to a “loss of confidence” in his ability to lead.
Adm. Scott Swift, head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, relieved Aucoin from his duties at the 7th Fleet’s Yokosuka base in Japan in response to a string of accidents, two of which turned out to be fatal, The Washington Post reports. Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, the Pacific Fleet’s deputy commander, will take command in Aucoin’s absence.
The incidents that led to this leadership change included Monday’s deadly collision involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John McCain and an oil tanker which took the lives of several sailors, an accident in June involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a container ship that killed seven American sailors, a collision in May involving the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Lake Champlain and a South Korean fishing vessel, and an incident in January in which the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay.
These incidents have shaken the Navy. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson ordered a “pause” of worldwide fleet operations Monday and directed Adm. Phil Davidson of Fleet Forces Command to conduct a review of 7th Fleet’s combat readiness. Swift has ordered an additional review of all naval forces in the Pacific theater of operations.
The 7th Fleet has 50 to 60 ships responsible for an area of 48 million square miles. The fleet is expected to be able to respond to a variety of crises, from natural disasters to a conflict on the Korean Peninsula to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
While some observers have speculated that a hostile foreign actor — specifically China — may have launched a cyber attack against or sabotaged U.S. destroyers, the more likely explanation given the lack of evidence for the other is that the reduction in the size of the Navy over the past few years has put greater strain on the crews as they are forced to do more with less, Scott Cheney-Peters, a former member of the 7th Fleet’s USS Fitzgerald and founder of the Center for International Maritime Security, told the Post.
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