Collision in the Singapore Strait: Tips for Safe U.S. Navy Vessel Steering

While operating large transportation vessels like the USS John S McCain, the following are crucial: sufficient training, adequate bridge operating procedures, and operational oversight.

Two massive ships collided in August of 2017, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is just now confirming the cause of the crash. An August 2019 NTSB news release relates the accident and the safety lessens gleamed from it.

Two years ago, the USS John S McCain and tanker Alnic MC crossed deadly paths in the Middle Channel Passage of the Singapore Strait Traffic Separation Scheme. Ten sailors lost their lives and forty-eight more were injured, and to make matters worse, the property damage totaled to a hefty $1.2 million. Since the Singapore Strait Traffic Separation Scheme is one of the world’s busiest waterways, it’s surprising a collision like this does not happen more often. However, the NTSB confirmed that the case of this ship collision was not only disastrous but also preventable.

The collision likely was caused by a lack of effective operational oversight – specifically related to steering – that resulted in both insufficient training and inadequate bridge operating procedures. The crash was also a result of the crew’s inability to follow the loss of steering emergency procedures, the lack of communication between the U.S. Navy destroyer and nearby vessel traffic, and even the fact that the system was being operated in backup manual control, which removed a safeguard against steering control transfers.

The ship’s crew lost control of the vessel and was unable to follow emergency procedures to secure control, but the collision was further caused by the crew’s untimely change of critical control systems that resulted in an unbalanced thrust.

After this fatal collision and a conclusion of causes, the NTSB issued some key safety recommendations to the US Navy Seeking:

  • Issuance of permanent guidance directing destroyers equipped with computer-assisted steering modes, except during an emergency.
  • Issuance of guidance to crews emphasizing the importance of appropriate use of high frequency radio for safe navigation.
  • Revision of written instructions for bridge watchstanders on destroyers equipped with the Integrated Bridge and Navigation System to include procedures for shifting steering, throttle ganging and unganging, and thrust control.
  • Instituting Seafarer’s Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping Code rest standards for all crewmembers onboard naval vessels.

With the implication of these safety recommendations, the NTSB hopes to prevent another fatal and costly collision like this one. Marine Accident Report 19/01 is available at

Download Center

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program.

  • Job Hazard Analysis Guide

    This guide includes details on how to conduct a thorough Job Hazard Analysis, and it's based directly on an OSHA publication for conducting JHAs. Learn how to identify potential hazards associated with each task of a job and set controls to mitigate hazard risks.

  • A Guide to Practicing “New Safety”

    Learn from safety professionals from around the world as they share their perspectives on various “new views” of safety, including Safety Differently, Safety-II, No Safety, Human and Organizational Performance (HOP), Resilience Engineering, and more in this helpful guide.

  • Lone Worker Safety Guide

    As organizations digitalize and remote operations become more commonplace, the number of lone workers is on the rise. These employees are at increased risk for unaddressed workplace accidents or emergencies. This guide was created to help employers better understand common lone worker risks and solutions for lone worker risk mitigation and incident prevention.

  • EHS Software Buyer's Guide

    Learn the keys to staying organized, staying sharp, and staying one step ahead on all things safety. This buyer’s guide is designed for you to use in your search for the safety management solution that best suits your company’s needs.

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - June 2022

    June 2022


      Corporate Safety Culture Is Workplace Culture
      Keeping Workers Safe from Heat-Related Illnesses & Injuries
      Should Employers Consider Oral Fluid Drug Testing?
      Addressing Physical Differences
    View This Issue