When a US nuclear submarine “hit an object” while operating at depth in one of the world’s most sensitive bodies of water, the South China Sea, a week ago, it sustained damage, and several crewmembers were hurt. The USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, hit the unidentified object on October 2 “while operating in international seas in the Indo-Pacific region,” according to a statement released by the US Navy on Thursday. The accident occurred in one of two adjacent bodies of water where the US and its allies have frequently contested China’s territorial claims, according to US defense sources. China wanted more information on the US Navy disaster that occurred off its east coast on Friday.
Connecticut had returned to the surface on its own power, according to US officials, and anticipated to arrive in Guam soon so the damage could be completely examined. Two crewmembers had “significant” injuries, according to officials, and several others received minor bumps and bruises. No one took off the submarine and all were treated by Navy corpsmen on board.
According to the Navy, the submarine “remains in a secure and stable condition.” It is one of over 70 nuclear-powered submarines in the US Navy’s fleet. Its nuclear propulsion system and related regions “weren’t harmed and are completely working,” according to the company.
The Foreign Ministry has expressed “grave concerns” about the incident, according to China’s Global Times newspaper, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian demanding the US to “give facts, its aim of cruising, and whether it caused a nuclear leak or endangered the maritime environment.”
The attack submarine’s armament systems were likewise unharmed, according to US sources. The Navy said in a statement that “the amount of damage to the remainder of the submarine is being assessed,” and that the incident would be probed.
China often complains and condemns “freedom of navigation” missions by US ships near Chinese-claimed islands, reefs, and other places in the South China Sea.
The United States denounced China several years ago for placing missile systems on a manufactured reef in the South China Sea. That body of water, as well as the East China Sea to its north, has been the subject of numerous territorial disputes between Beijing, other Asian governments, and the West. Most of the South and East China Seas are considered international seas by the United States, while China claims sovereignty over much of the region.
In recent years, the US and its allies have intensified sail-bys in both seas, which has prompted China to retaliate. The US and China frequently accuse one other of military operations in the region that are “unsafe” or “unprofessional.”
The last known significant collision involving a US Navy submarine occurred in 2005 when the USS San Francisco collided with an undersea mountain at full speed. One sailor died in the collision, while the majority of the crew was injured. Despite having up-to-date maps accessible, the captain and three other senior officers were removed from their duties after it was discovered that they were utilizing old seafloor charts. That event occurred thousands of miles east of the disputed waters off China’s coast, near the US territory of Guam.