US submarine hits ‘object’ while underwater in South China Sea

A US nuclear-powered submarine hit an “object” while submerged in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region, injuring some of the crew, the United States Navy has said.

None of the sailors on board the USS Connecticut suffered life-threatening injuries, the Navy said in a brief statement on Thursday.

The incident took place on Saturday, it added.

“The submarine remains in a safe and stable condition,” the statement said. “USS Connecticut’s nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational.”

The statement did not elaborate on what the vessel collided with, the location of the incident or the number of sailors who were injured.

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Reuters news agency the incident took place in the South China Sea and that “fewer than 15 people” suffered minor injuries such as bruises and cuts. Two of the injuries were categorised as “moderate”, Reuters reported.

“The safety of the crew remains the Navy’s top priority,” the statement said, adding that the incident was under investigation.

The South China Sea is one world’s most disputed and economically significant waterways. China claims almost the entire area under its controversial nine-dash line and has built artificial islands and set up military outposts in recent years.

Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines also claim parts of the sea, as does Taiwan.

This week, Malaysia summoned the Chinese envoy after Chinese vessels entered Kuala Lumpur’s territorial waters off the coast of Borneo.

The US has been conducting what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea to assert navigational rights and freedoms in line with international law. Tensions in the area have only increased since 2016 when the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s nine-dash line and ruled that Beijing had no historic title over the South China Sea after the Philippines’s challenged Beijing’s claims and actions over the disputed waterway.

The US Navy said the submarine was now headed towards Guam.

The USS Connecticut is a Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) and has 140 crew, including 14 officers. The Navy says the Seawolf vessels are “quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors”. They also have eight torpedo tubes.

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