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Report: Massive morale problems aboard US Navy ship

http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/11/politics/morale-problems-us-navy-shiloh/index.html

 

(CNN) Morale aboard a US warship operating in the Pacific reached such a low ebb that one sailor described serving aboard the ship as being akin to being on “a floating prison,” according to surveys obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

The Navy Times obtained three command climate surveys featuring hundreds of pages of anonymous comments from sailors revealing widespread morale issues aboard the USS Shiloh, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser based in Yokosuka, Japan.
Two Navy officials told CNN that the information reported from the surveys was accurate.
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According to the obtained surveys only 31% of the sailors who responded to the survey said yes to the prompt: “I trust that my organization’s leadership will treat me fairly,” compared to 63% under the previous commanding officer.
Additionally, only 37% agreed with the statement “I feel motivated to give my best efforts to the mission of the organization,” compared to 69% agreeing to the statement under the previous leadership.
The Navy officials added that the poor results of one climate survey caused Navy leadership to increase the frequency of which such surveys were conducted to help prompt the commander, Capt. Adam Aycock, to improve his performance.
One of the officials said they could not explain how Aycock managed to retain command in the face of the poor survey results.
Aycock served as the Shiloh’s commanding officer from June 2015 to August 2017 and is now at the US Naval War College.
One official said that Aycock remains on active duty and was not prematurely reassigned from his command of the Shiloh.
The survey responses also showed that junior sailors were concerned about receiving harsh punishments from Aycock, including being placed in the brig and fed only “bread and water,” an arcane form of punishment that is still available to commanding officers.
“Even the taxi drivers on base know us for being the ‘USS Bread and Water,'” one survey respondent said.
Language prohibiting that form of punishment was placed into the current version of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Shiloh is part of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet which has been beset by a series of problems including two deadly collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John McCain.
Officers in the 7th Fleet have faced a range of disciplinary actions and the Navy took the rare step of relieving the fleet’s commander, Vice. Adm. Joseph Aucoin.
The Shiloh, like the McCain and the Fitzgerald, is also equipped with the Aegis Missile Defense system which is capable of shooting down hostile missiles from adversarial states like North Korea.
The ship made headlines in June when a US sailor who was thought to have gone overboard for seven days and was presumed dead was found aliveaboard the ship after prompting a major search operation. The sailor was later subjected to a non-judicial punishment.
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Divers Find Remains in Search of U.S. Navy Ship Damaged in Collision

SINGAPORE — Divers have found remains of missing American sailors in the flooded compartments of the Navy destroyer John S. McCain, which collided with an oil tanker on Monday off the coast of Singapore, the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet said Tuesday.

The commander, Adm. Scott H. Swift, declined to say how many bodies had been located in the ship, which is docked at Changi Naval Base here. He also said that the Malaysian Navy, which is part of the search effort, had reported recovering a body at sea that might be one of the 10 missing sailors.

“We have discovered other bodies during the diving on the McCain today,” Admiral Swift said at a news conference, held within sight of the damaged ship. “But it is premature to say how many or what the status of the recovery of those bodies is.”

The body found by the Malaysian Navy is being handed over to the Americans for identification.

Ships and aircraft from five nations have been searching for the sailors near the site of the collision, in waters claimed by both Malaysia and Singapore. Each of those two countries claimed to be leading the search effort at sea, which includes ships and planes from the United States, Indonesia and Australia.

Admiral Swift said the search at sea would continue despite the discovery of remains in the ship. “The focus of the United States Pacific Fleet is our 10 missing sailors and their families,” he said. “We are always hopeful there are survivors.”

The collision was the second in two months involving a destroyer from the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, which is based in Yokosuka, Japan.

In June, the destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off Japan. Soon afterward, searchers found the bodies of seven missing sailors in its flooded berthing compartments.

After the collision on Monday, Adm. John Richardson, the Navy’s top officer, announced that all 277 Navy ships worldwide would take an “operational pause” for one or days to review basic seamanship, teamwork and other “fundamentals.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters that an inquiry into the collision had already begun. “We obviously have an investigation underway and that will determine what happened,” he said.

At his news conference Tuesday, Admiral Swift discounted suggestions that the crew of the McCain had been overworked or underprepared. He said the crew responded quickly after the collision, righted the ship and prevented an even bigger disaster.

“I was on the McCain this morning and looking at the eyes of those sailors, and even after their heroic efforts yesterday I didn’t see exhaustion,” he said. “I didn’t see a crew that was taking a knee, so to speak. They are on their game.”

The admiral said there were no signs of failure in the ship’s steering system or of a cyberattack, two possibilities that have been mentioned in news reports. But he noted that the investigation was in its earliest stages and said, “We are not taking any consideration off the table.”

The destroyer is named after John S. McCain Sr. and John S. McCain Jr., Navy admirals who were the grandfather and father of Senator John McCain of Arizona.

In Washington, Senator McCain, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement endorsing the operational pause.

“I agree with Admiral Richardson that more forceful action is urgently needed to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions,” he said. “Our sailors who risk their lives every day, in combat and in training, deserve no less.”

The collision between the John S. McCain and the Alnic MC, a Liberian-registered tanker about three times its size, occurred east of Singapore.

Andrew Tan, the chief executive of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, said that about 250 people from various Singapore agencies were involved in the search.

“This incident took place in Singapore waters and M.P.A. continues to lead the search and rescue efforts,” Mr. Tan told reporters on Tuesday. “So everyone is working closely together to make sure that we spare no effort in terms of searching for the unaccounted for.”

But in Malaysia, Zulkifli Abu Bakar, the director general of the Maritime Enforcement Agency, said the collision had occurred in his country’s waters, at the highly congested entrance to the Singapore and Malacca Straits. He said 80,000 ships a year pass through the area.

“It is in our waters, so we are leading the S.A.R. operations,” he said Monday, using an abbreviation for search and rescue.

He said any territorial dispute was secondary to the search effort. “We do not want to have another collision,” he said. “For the time being, I don’t think we should argue about whose waters, because I think the most important thing is to focus on the search and rescue effort.”

US NAVY SHIP FIRES WARNING SHOTS AT IRANIAN VESSEL

 

WASHINGTON – A US Navy ship fired warning shots toward an Iranian vessel near the northern Arabian Gulf on Tuesday after the vessel came within 150 yards (137 meters), a US official told Reuters.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the USS Thunderbolt fired the warning shots after the Iranian vessel ignored radio calls and the ship’s whistle. The Thunderbolt was being accompanied by several US Coast Guard vessels.

The Iranian vessel appeared to be from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the official added.

Years of mutual animosity had eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran last year as part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But serious differences remain over Iran’s ballistic missile program and conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

US President Donald Trump’s administration recently declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was not following the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

During the presidential campaign last September, Trump vowed that any Iranian vessels that harasses the US Navy in the Gulf would be “shot out of the water.”

Similar incidents happen occasionally, the last in January when a US Navy destroyer fired three warning shots at four Iranian fast-attack vessels near the Strait of Hormuz after they closed in at high speed and disregarded repeated requests to slow down.