The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, USS Porter collided with the Japanese owned, Panamanian flag, Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) M/V Otowasan in the the Strait of Hormuz at around 1 am Sunday, local time.
While few details are currently available, the report of the collision is disturbing. The M/V Otowasan is roughly 40 times larger than the destroyer by displacement and travels at less than half the destroyer’s speed. The USS Porter is fitted with an Aegis Combat Missile Defense System which, through complex radar tracking and telemetry, is designed to shoot down an incoming missile with another missile. It is one of the highest-tech systems in service in the US Navy. The ship is also fitted with conventional radar and navigational aids. Nevertheless, the destroyer failed to avoid colliding with a much larger and much slower oil tanker.
What is worrisome is that the region around the Strait of Hormuz has been a militarily hot-spot for decades. Approximately 20% of all of the world’s petroleum and 35% of all oil traveling by sea transits the strait, which is 21 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point. The US Navy has had difficulty in identifying and reacting to threats to its ships in the region.
In July, the navy oiler USNS Rappahannock opened fire on an unarmed fishing boat off Dubai, killing one fisherman and wounding three. The United States paid a compensation of $9,100 to the family of a dead fisherman and $910 to the three survivors.
During the Iran/Iraq in May 1987, the guided-missile frigate USS Stark was struck by two Exocet missiles fired by an Iraqi jet, killing 37 U.S. sailors on board, while on patrol in the Persian Gulf. The Iraqis were considered US allies at the time and Stark‘s missile defense system was not turned on at the time of the attack.
In the 1988, the Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes operating in the Strait of Hormuz mistook an Iranian commercial airline, an Airbus A300B2-203, for an attacking jet fighter and shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 onboard, including 66 children and 16 crew. The United States agreed to pay $61.8 million, an average of $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims. However, the United States has never admitted responsibility, nor apologized to Iran.
In a region where misunderstood intentions and misidentified threats has the potential to start a new war, it is worrisome that one the the Navy’s high-tech ships could not avoid a collision with a slow moving tanker.
Note: A previous version of the post referred to the “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.” It should have referred to the “Aegis Combat Missile Defense System.”