Nuclear-powered US attack submarine involved in underwater collision in South China Sea

Almost a dozen sailors were injured aboard the USS Connecticut, a Seawolf-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, after striking an unknown object while submerged in the South China Sea on Oct. 2.

According to USNI News, the sub (SSN-22) was operating in international waters when it struck the object. The U.S. Navy says that the vessel is currently under power and returning to port in the U.S. 7th Fleet, according to a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman on Thursday.

“The Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut struck an object while submerged on the afternoon of Oct. 2, while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region. The safety of the crew remains the Navy’s top priority. There are no life-threatening injuries,” the spokesman, Capt. Bill Clinton, told USNI News.

“The submarine remains in a safe and stable condition. USS Connecticut’s nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational. The extent of damage to the remainder of the submarine is being assessed. The U.S. Navy has not requested assistance. The incident will be investigated,” Clinton added.

A Defense Department official told the news agency that at least 11 sailors were hurt, suffering minor-to-moderate injuries. The sub is heading to Guam where it will be inspected for damage. It is expected to arrive in port by Friday, the official added.

The strike occurred while the sub was operating in the South China Sea. The attack sub began its journey to Guam last Saturday after surfacing, USNI News confirmed.

The Navy announced May 27 from its homeport at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Wash., en route to the Pacific. The Sea Service has since released photos of the Connecticut underway and operating in the Western Pacific, having made port calls in Japan in late July as well as early August. Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the 7th Fleet, went aboard the vessel for a visit in August, the Navy said.

There were only three Sea Wolf-class attack boats built late in the Cold War — the namesake vessel USS Sea Wolf (SSN-21), the Connecticut, and the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23). The subs are among the U.S. Navy’s “most capable and sensitive attack boats,” USNI News reported.

The last known incident of a U.S. Navy sub suffering an underwater collision was in 2005 when the USS San Francisco (SSN-771), a Los Angeles-class attack submarine that struck an underwater mountain range at full speed, killing one sailor. The vessel has been out of service since May 2017 and is currently a moored training vessel attached to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command’s Nuclear Power Training Unit at Naval Support Activity Charleston in South Carolina.

At the time of the incident, most of the crew were injured and had to fight for their lives to get the vessel to the surface, according to reports. The vessel managed to make way to Puget Sound, Wash., where its heavily damaged bow was replaced by the bow of the retiring USS Honolulu.

The Navy is currently building two new classes of nuclear-powered submarines, the Virginia class, designed to replace the Cold War-era Los Angeles Class boats, and the Columbia class, which will replace Ohio-class ballistic missile subs, which form the backbone of the nuclear deterrent triad. Four of the Ohio-class boats carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles rather than nuclear-tipped missiles.

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