US nuclear sub pulls in for repairs after collision in South China Sea
The US Navy submarine that stoked international tensions after colliding with an underwater mountain in the South China Sea pulled into the California coast on Sunday, bearing visible surface damage from the crash in October.
The USS Connecticut nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine arrived at San Diego Bay with significant damage to its bow. Defense news outlet The Drive reported that the Seawolf-class vessel was missing its entire bow sonar dome, which would have made the 6,200-mile (9,950-kilometer) journey across the Pacific “extremely unpleasant.”
According to the US Naval Institute (USNI), the “inoperable” sonar dome would have made it “unsafe” for the stricken submarine to make the transit underwater. The outlet also added that the ballast tanks and forward section of the vessel had been damaged as well.
Following an initial damage assessment at Guam, the ship was scheduled to undergo additional repairs at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Washington, the outlet reported – adding that it was unclear why the boat was directed to San Diego instead.
It is also not known how long the repairs will take – or how much they will cost. The Navy has not commented on potential repairs, but Naval News has suggested that a new sonar dome would need to be a “custom repair job” if the submarine is deemed “worthy and cost-effective.”
US Pacific Fleet Submarine Force spokesperson Commander Cindy Fields would only tell The Drive that the vessel is in port and “remains in a safe and stable condition.”
Nearly a dozen members of the crew were injured during the collision, though none of their injuries were thought to be life-threatening, the USNI reported, adding that the submarine’s nuclear reactor and propulsion systems had not been affected.
An investigation by the US Seventh Fleet, which operates in the western Pacific, stated that the vessel had struck an “uncharted seamount” but China criticized the “ambiguous” statement as not a sufficient explanation of the events during a period of escalating tensions.
Last month, Seventh Fleet commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas fired the boat’s commanding officer, executive officer and chief sonar technician “due to loss of confidence.” Thomas had determined that the incident could have been prevented by “sound judgment, prudent decision-making and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution and risk management.”