Following four accidents in Asia this year, including two fatal collisions that caused the deaths of more than a dozen sailors, the Navy is planning to relieve the admiral in charge of its Japan-based 7th Fleet, according to multiple reports.
Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, who has commanded the Navy’s largest forward-deployed fleet since September 2015, is expected to be formally removed from his job Wednesday, reported The Wall Street Journal, citing officials familiar with the situation.
Aucoin, a decorated fighter pilot, had been set to retire in the coming weeks, but his departure was hastened by superiors who’d lost confidence in his leadership, according to The New York Times.
“An expedited change in leadership was needed,” a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday.
The news of the three-star admiral’s removal comes on the heels of the Navy’s announcement this week of a rare “operational pause” for its ships worldwide. That announcement had been a reaction to the Monday collision involving the Navy destroyer John S. McCain and an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore.
A search-and-rescue effort was launched for 10 missing sailors following the accident. Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, said Tuesday that at least some of the missing sailors were dead — making it the second deadly accident involving the 7th Fleet this year.
In June, seven sailors were killed when the destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off Japan.
The two deadly collisions, as well as two accidents that occurred in South Korea and Japan in May and January, respectively, have deeply shaken the Navy, which is planning a review in the coming months of the 7th Fleet to “assess its culture, operations and readiness for missions,” reported The Washington Post.
“One tragedy like this is one too many, and while each of these four events is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation,” said Swift of the fleet’s accidents this year, according to the paper. “I welcome the broad, comprehensive view announced by the chief of naval operations.”