2 US Navy ships collide in Pacific; no injuries

844-foot-long U.S. Navy assault ship collided with a refueling tanker
Wednesday in the Pacific Ocean, causing damage to both ships, but there
were no injuries or fuel spills, military officials said.

The midmorning accident
between the amphibious assault vessel USS Essex and the oiler USNS
Yukon occurred about 120 miles off the coast of Southern California as
the Essex was approaching the Yukon to be refueled, said Cmdr. Charlie
Brown, a spokesman for the 3rd Fleet.

Brown said the steering
apparently stopped working on the Essex, which was carrying 982 crew
members on its way to San Diego for scheduled maintenance. It had spent
the past 12 years based in Sasebo, Japan, as command ship for the Navy's
Expeditionary Strike Group 7.

The Essex was traveling
with a new crew that came aboard for the trip to California. The ship
recently underwent a crew swap with another amphibious assault ship, the
Bonhomme Richard, as part of a standard procedure in the Navy to keep
its ships operating.

The Essex and Yukon were
both able to continue toward San Diego despite the damage, which the
Navy said did not compromise their fuel tanks or systems.

The Yukon arrived at the
Navy base in San Diego after 3 p.m. Wednesday with its crew of 82,
including 78 civilian mariners and four military crew members.

The Essex was keeping to its planned arrival time of 9 a.m. Thursday.

Brown said the damage was
still being assessed. He said he couldn't say how fast the ships were
moving at the time of the crash because the Navy is still investigating
the cause.

The standard speed for
ships lining up to refuel at sea is about 13 knots, or 15 mph, Brown
said. No lines or hoses had been connected because the two vessels were
just approaching each other.

The ships likely just bounced off each other, said maritime safety consultant James W. Allen.

Even so, he said, with
massive ships, it can be “a pretty hard bump that can bend metal” and
cause dents. The Essex, known as the Iron Gator, resembles a small
aircraft carrier, while the Yukon is 677 feet long.

Navy ships routinely refuel at sea while under way.

“They were probably so
close there was no time to respond when the steering went out,” said
Allen, who served 30 years in the Coast Guard.

Navy officials said it was the Essex's first collision. The ship, however, has had mechanical problems.

The military publication
Stars and Stripes reported in February that twice over a seven-month
period, missions were scrapped because of mechanical or maintenance
issues involving the 21-year-old flagship commissioned in San Diego

Navy spokesman Lt. Richard
Drake at the time blamed it on wear and tear. 3rd Fleet officials said
they could not comment on that since at the time the Essex was in the
7th Fleet in Japan. 7th Fleet officials could not be immediately reached
for comment Wednesday.

The Yukon, which was
launched in 1993, has been involved in at least two previous collisions,
including on Feb. 27, 2000, when it collided with a 135-foot civilian
cargo ship while trying to enter Dubai's Jebel Ali port in the United
Arab Emirates. The Yukon sustained minor damage.

Less than five months
later, it was hit by the USS Denver during refueling off the coast of
Hawaii. Both ships sustained heavy damage.


Associated Press writers Andrew Dalton and John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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