US Submarine Ran into an Underwater Mountain Last Month, US Navy Confirms

The Navy hasn't ruled out human error in the incident.
John Loeffler
The photo credit line may appear like thisUS Navy/US Naval Institute

A US Navy submarine struck an underwater mountain in the South China Sea back in early October, the US Navy has now confirmed.

The undersea collision occurred on October 2 in the South China Sea, forcing the nuclear submarine to surface and return to a port in Guam for inspection and repairs. The Navy says that the submarine was in international waters at the time of the collision. 

Underwater mountains, known as seamounts, are usually formed from underwater volcanic activity and most of them are uncharted. According to NPR, researchers estimate that there are more than 100,000 seamounts that rise more than a kilometer above the ocean floor.

"The investigation determined that [USS Connecticut] grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region," a Navy statement said. "Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet will determine whether follow-on actions — including accountability — are appropriate."

We don't have many further details about the uncharted seamount or the collision, such as the submarine's depth when it collided with the seamount, nor the kind of damage the collision caused to the sub.

Defense Department officials have said though that the submarine's nuclear reactor was not damaged in the incident. "The extent of damage to the remainder of the submarine is being assessed," the office of the 7th Fleet said in a statement to NPR about a week after the collision was first reported.

This isn't the first time that a submarine in that region of the world ran into a seamount. Back in 2005, the USS San Fransisco hit a seamount at full speed near Guam.

The collision threw some crewmembers as far as 20 feet upon impact, causing injuries to a majority of the crew of 137 sailors. One sailor was killed in that incident.

In that incident, charts of the ocean floor that the USS San Fransisco was using did not show the seamount. Whether the same is the case with the USS Connecticut is unclear, though the promise of "accountability" in the 7th Fleet's statement does imply that human error hasn't been ruled out as of yet.


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