A nuclear powered US navy attack submarine has struck an object while submerged in international waters in the South China Sea, officials have said.
Eleven sailors were hurt – two suffered moderate injuries and the rest had minor scrapes and bruises, officials said. All were treated on the sub.
In a brief statement on Thursday that provided few details of the incident, which happened five days ago, US Pacific Fleet said the USS Connecticut remained in a “safe and stable condition”, that there were no life-threatening injuries and the sub was still fully operational.
The Seawolf-class submarine’s nuclear propulsion plant was not affected, it added. “The extent of damage to the remainder of the submarine is being assessed,” the statement said, adding that the incident will be investigated.
The collision comes amid escalating tensions in the region, and the same weekend that US and UK aircraft carriers conducted military exercises with Japan, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand just north of Taiwan.
The United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group 21 has since travelled down to the South China Sea, pointing to its vital importance as a maritime trade route.
The statement did not specify the location of the incident, but two navy officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details not announced publicly, said it happened in the South China Sea while the Connecticut was conducting routine operations.
The officials said the sub then headed toward port at Guam. They said the incident was not announced before Thursday in order to maintain operational security.
Navy officials told the Washington Post it is not believed that China caused the collision and that the vessel was monitored by other US vessels in the region as it moved to Guam.
The officials said it was not yet clear what object the sub had struck but that it was not another submarine. One official said it could have been a sunken vessel, a sunken container or other uncharted object.
The 107-metre (353ft) multi-billion-dollar USS Connecticut was commissioned in the cold war era and is one of three Sea Wolf-class boats. It carries more than 100 personnel.
In 2005, submarine the USS San Francisco struck a seamount near Guam at full speed, killing one sailor and injuring 24 others.
China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, with competing claims from four south-east Asian states as well as Taiwan.
Beijing has been accused of deploying a range of military hardware there, including anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles, and ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the waters to be without basis.
Tensions have escalated in recent months between Beijing and rival claimants.
With Associated Press