Developments regarding this weekend’s fatal collision of the USS John S. McCain with a merchant ship — the second such collision in as many months — are ongoing after Tuesday’s discovery of several sailors’ remains. With investigators conducting a broad review into the training practices and seamen of the Seventh Fleet (or “Pacific Fleet”), a rapid decision has been made regarding a high-ranking officer. The U.S. Navy will relieve Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin from his duties.
While it may seem that Aucoin’s removal could be a public relations move (he was, after all, due to retire next month), NBC News reports that Pacific Fleet Admiral Scott Swift is phrasing this as a performance-based dismissal:
“Admiral Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, today relieved the commander of Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the U.S. Navy said in a press release.
Swift, who traveled to Japan to relieve Aucoin, ordered his deputy Pacific Fleet commander, Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer, to immediately take command of the powerful U.S. force.
Still, the Wall Street Journal reports that there has been no specific finding of fault on Aucoin’s behalf, although the investigations into both the USS John McCain’s collision and the fleet as a whole are still young.
The timing of Aucoin’s dismissal arrives at a time of increased tensions within the area patrolled by the Pacific Fleet. North Korea has renewed threats upon U.S. targets while the Chinese are developing their many artificial islands in disputed waters, all as merchants continue business as usual on the seas, and the Trump administration struggles to assert control. As an anonymous Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force officer told NBC News, “Losing another ship now is bad timing. It may raise concern over America’s defensive capabilities and it could send the wrong signal to North Korea and China.”
Indeed, U.S. Navy hopes to right the ship, so to speak.