Commanding Officer Kevin Shilling stands at attention as Navy Rear Adm. Mark Whitney leads a proclamation ceremony and swearing-in of sailors Monday at Portland City Hall. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

News reports on Tuesday said that the U.S. Navy destroyer that collided Monday with an oil tanker near Singapore suffered a steering failure before the collision

CNN reported Tuesday that a Navy official said the USS John S. McCain suffered a steering failure during its approach into the Strait of Malacca.

The former skipper of the destroyer’s sister ship said that rules of the road for vessels going in the same direction call for the tanker to maneuver around the other ship and give way to the destroyer.

Chris Monroe, a retired Navy commander and now a maritime lawyer with the Portland firm Verrill Dana, said that, based on photographs of the damage to the USS McCain, a Bath Iron Works-built destroyer, the oil tanker could have been at fault and should have maneuvered around the Navy destroyer.

A broader U.S. Navy review will look at the 7th Fleet’s performance, including personnel, navigation capabilities, maintenance, equipment, surface warfare training, munitions, certifications and how sailors move through their careers. Richardson said the review will be conducted with the help of the Navy’s office of the inspector general, the safety center and private companies that make equipment used by sailors.

Boot camp-bound Alexander Porter of Gardiner stands with his family as they take photos and say goodbye outside Portland City Hall after his proclamation ceremony and sailor swearing-in Monday. Recent collisions of Navy ships won’t deter Porter from embarking on a career in the Navy. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Ten sailors were missing after the collision and others were injured in the crash of the tanker and the McCain off Singapore near a busy strait.


Tuesday morning, the remains of some of the missing sailors had been located in a compartment on the McCain. Adm. Scott Swift also said at a news conference in Singapore that Malaysian officials had found one body, which had yet to be identified, according to the Associated Press.

Monroe was commander of the USS Curtis Wilbur, a sister ship of both the McCain and the USS Fitzgerald, another Navy destroyer that collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan in June, killing seven sailors. The Navy last week relieved the commander and two senior leaders aboard the Fitzgerald of their duties, saying that poor leadership and a lack of teamwork contributed to that crash.

All three ships were built by Bath Iron Works, were commissioned about the same time and were part of the same squadron based in Yokosuka, Japan, Monroe said.

He said the rules of the road for vessels is that when two ships are headed in roughly the same direction, their actions are guided by how the vessels are positioned to each other. One is the “stand-on” vessel and is supposed to continue on its heading and speed, and the other is the “give-way” vessel and is supposed to maneuver around the other ship.

In the case of the collision early Monday, Monroe said, it appears the McCain was the stand-on ship, while the tanker was the give-way vessel and should have maneuvered to pass behind the Navy ship.

However, he said, the Navy ship should have taken action once it became clear a collision was imminent and the give-way vessel wasn’t doing what it should.


The McCain’s skipper, he said, “could have floored it” and might have been able to accelerate clear of the tanker. The destroyer has a top speed of more than 30 knots – about 35 miles per hour – and is highly maneuverable. The tanker is much slower and less maneuverable, Monroe said.

“There are international protocols and conventions designed to prevent collisions at sea,” he said. “One needs to wonder what went wrong.”

The Strait of Singapore, near where the collision occurred, is extremely busy, Monroe said. When he commanded the USS Curtis Wilbur in 2012 and headed into those waters, there was almost always at least one other ship in sight, he said, with hundreds of vessels transiting the strait every day. It’s only grown more congested since then, Monroe said.

“It’s known as the world’s busiest shipping lane,” he said.

There have been two other at-sea incidents involving Navy warships this year, in addition to the McCain and Fitzgerald. In January, the USS Antietam was damaged after running aground off Japan, and in May the USS Lake Champlain was struck by a South Korean fishing boat.

But the deadly collisions aren’t enough to deter Alexander Porter from embarking on his chosen career in the Navy. The 18-year-old from Lewiston was one of 11 Mainers to take an oath to defend the Constitution and obey orders, officially joining the Navy in a ceremony Monday at Portland City Hall. He will head off to boot camp in Illinois in January and said he hopes to become a diver.


“I’m not at all nervous,” he said.

His father, however, couldn’t conceal his anxiety at the prospect of his son joining the military at a time of great uncertainty in the world.

“I’m nervous. Obviously, I’m nervous,” said Chris Porter, who attended his son’s swearing in – a kickoff to Navy Week in Portland – along with Porter’s mother, grandparents and siblings in the State of Maine room at City Hall. “But he’s a smart kid, he works hard and he wants to serve his country.”

Another recruit, Philip Obert, 24, of Augusta, said he wasn’t worried about his career choice, but was concerned that his lush beard might have to go.

Obert is in line to become a machinist’s mate for surface ships after he heads off to boot camp in December. However, he’s been told he might be able to keep the beard if he becomes a machinist’s mate for submarines.

Fellow inductee Bobby Harriman said the group of 11 inducted Monday have gone through a Navy program in which they discuss the demands and rewards of service and they’ve addressed the possibility of war.

“There’s always that uncertainty,” said Harriman, 17, who is starting his senior year of high school and will enter the service next July. Concerns over war, peace and maritime safety “have been going on since we went into the program.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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