Nuclear submarine USS Connecticut damaged by collision in the South China Sea with unknown “object”

Washington – A US nuclear submarine was damaged and some crew members were injured when it “hit an object” while operating at depth a week ago in one of the most sensitive water bodies on the planet, South China Sea. The U.S. Navy confirmed in a statement Thursday that the USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered submarine with rapid attack, hit the unidentified object on October 2 “while operating in international waters of the Indo-Pacific.”

U.S. defense officials told CBS News correspondent David Martin that the collision took place in the South China Sea, one of two adjacent waters where the United States and its allies have reiterated China’s territorial claims. China on Friday demanded more information about the accident in the US Navy that took place somewhere off the east coast.


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U.S. officials told Martin on Thursday that Connecticut had returned to the surface on its own and was expected to arrive in Guam soon so the damage could be fully assessed. Officials told CBS News that two crew members sustained “moderate” injuries and several more minor injuries and bruises. All were handled by the Navy Corpsman aboard the vessel, and no one was taken by subben.

The submarine itself, one of nearly 70 in the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered fleet, “remains in a safe and stable condition,” according to the Navy statement. Its nuclear propulsion system and related areas “were not affected and remain fully operational.”

China’s newspaper Global Times reported that the Foreign Ministry had expressed “serious concerns” about the incident and quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian as urging the United States to “disclose details, its purpose of the cruise and whether it caused a nuclear leak or damaged marine environment.” “

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The US Navy Seawolf-class rapid attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) is seen in an undated file photo provided by the US Navy.

US Navy / Thiep Van Nguyen II


All weapon systems on the attack submarine were also undamaged, U.S. officials told Martin.

“The extent of damage to the rest of the submarine is being assessed,” the fleet said in its statement, adding that the incident would be investigated.

As CBS News Asia correspondent Ramy Inocencio reports, this incident has emerged amid high tensions between Beijing and Washington, a few weeks after the US and UK signed an agreement to supply nuclear-powered submarines to the Australian military, and a few days later China sent a record number of military aircraft into the airspace of the US ally Taiwan, which concerns in Taipei that Beijing “is going to start a war.”

China routinely conducts protests and condemns “freedom of navigation” missions from U.S. vessels close to islands, reefs and other places in the South China Sea, as Beijing claims.

China, controlled and asserted regions, political map
A map shows the yellow area controlled by China, and regions claimed but uncontrolled by Beijing appear in orange, including most of the South China Sea.

Getty / iStockphoto


Several years ago, the United States condemned China for installation of weapon systems on a man-made rev in the South China Sea. Both the body of water and the East China Sea just north of it are the scene of countless territorial disputes between Beijing, other Asian nations and the West. The United States considers most of the southern and eastern China seas international waters, but China claims dominance over large parts of the region.

In recent years, both the United States and its allies have increased sailings in both seas, which has typically drawn evidence from China. The United States and Beijing routinely accuse each other of “unsafe” or “unprofessional” military maneuvers in the region.


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The last time a U.S. Navy submarine was known to have had a serious collision was in 2005, when The USS San Francisco hit an underwater mountain at full speed. The crash left one sailor dead and most crew members were injured. The captain and several other senior officers were relieved of their duty when it emerged that they had used obsolete maps of the seabed, despite having maps available.

This incident took place near US territory in Guam, thousands of miles east of the disputed waters off the coast of China.

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