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A Navy Submarine Hit an Underwater Mountain in the South China Sea

USS Connecticut
Image: Creative Commons.

The U.S. Navy reported on Monday that its nuclear-powered submarine that was damaged when it collided with an object in the South China Sea last month had in fact struck an uncharted seamount or underwater mountain. The 7th Fleet, which operates in the Western Pacific, reported that its investigation concluded that the USS Connecticut had smashed into a geological formation and not another vessel on October 2.

“The investigation determined USS CONNECTICUT grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region,” a 7th Fleet spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

USS Connecticut (SSN-22) is a Seawolf-class nuclear powered fast attack submarine. The fifth U.S. vessel to be named for the state, she was launched in 1997 and commissioned on December 11, 1998. The boat underwent maintenance and modernizing in a drydock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from March to August 2018, and the $17 million projects involved 30,000 worker days and included the use of a hull-climbing robot to inspect the ship’s hull.

Following the collision, on October 2 the vessel made her way to Guam for a damage assessment, where she now remains. The Navy didn’t report the incident for five days, likely in part because it had been unclear exactly what the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine had struck.

The collision reportedly caused a small number of moderate and minor injuries to the crew. All were treated by navy corpsmen aboard the vessel, and none of the sailors had to be taken off the sub. USNI News, which was the first to report that the boat had struck the underwater mountain, said that there is damage to the forward section including the sub’s ballast tanks.

The submarine was on a routine patrol in the neutral waters of the South China Sea, which China now claims as its sovereign territory. However, parts of the sea are also claimed by four Maritime Southeast Asian nations as well as by the self-rule island of Taiwan.

Beijing has accused Washington of failing to provide timely and detailed information regarding the incident, and complained that there has been a “lack of transparency and lack of responsibility from the U.S.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has called upon the United States to provide an explanation of USS Connecticut‘s “navigational intentions, the specific location of the accident, whether it was in the exclusive economic zone or territorial waters of any country, and whether it caused any nuclear leak or damage to the ocean environment.”

Wang added that Washington should “stop sending warships and military aircraft to provoke trouble and make shows of force,” and that without alerting China “this type of accident will only become more frequent,” CBSNews.com reported.

It remains unclear when USS Connecticut will return to duty or if the submarine will have to return to a facility in the United States for repairs. Originally designed to combat the threat from advanced Soviet ballistic submarines, 29 Seawolf-class submarines were originally ordered, but due to budget constraints at the end of the Cold War, the class was limited to just three boats.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

 

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

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