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The Navy has ordered an operational “stand-down” for all submarines following two recent accidents, charging commanders to “focus energy and intellect back onto the basics of submarine operations,” according to the Submarine Force’s leader.

Vice Adm. Chuck Munns, U.S. Submarine Force commander, lamented that the two incidents — one which resulted in the death of two sailors — happened under standard operations.

“It is clear that a common thread through recent problems has been errors conducting normal routine operations,” Munns said in a statement. “We are going back to basics, back to practice.”

The stand-down order does not mean submarines stop sailing, said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Loundermon, a Submarine Force spokesman. “Those deployed just can’t stop midway and sit in the ocean for a couple of days. But a focus will have to be on this stand-down.”

Normal operations will continue while commanders “review recently completed operations and future planned evolutions, and evaluate areas of risk and risk mitigation,” according to Munns’ statement.

They have a week to do it — reviews are due Jan. 19.

The two incidents that sparked Thursday’s order involved four sailors swept from the top of the submarine USS Minneapolis-St. Paul as it pulled out of port during bad weather on Dec. 29 in Plymouth Harbor, England.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Thomas Higgins, 45, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Holtz, 30, were killed, and two other sailors were injured. The investigation is ongoing, said Lt. Chris Servello, a spokesman with 6th Fleet.

In a separate incident, the fast attack submarine USS Newport News collided with a Japanese oil tanker Monday as the tanker passed over the submerged sub in the narrow Strait of Hormuz.

A preliminary rundown of the investigation indicates that the oil tanker’s high speed created a sucking flow, known as the “Venturi effect,” that made the sub rise and collide with the ship, said Loundermon, refuting media reports that the sub was on the surface or trying to surface.

No one was injured aboard either vessel, and both sustained minor damage. That investigation is ongoing and is led by 5th Fleet.

The Navy has 70 submarines in its force: 52 fast attack submarines, 14 ballistic missile submarines and four cruise missile submarines.

The deaths of the Minneapolis-St. Paul sailors are the first such fatalities in six years. During that same period, four other sailors who had fallen overboard were successfully rescued from the water.

According to Loundermon, in the past five years, there have been four submarine collisions:

· On Sept. 5, 2005, the USS Philadelphia and a Turkish merchant ship collided off the coast of Bahrain, resulting in minor damage.

· On Jan. 8, 2005, the USS San Francisco struck an undersea mountain near Guam, killing one crewman and injuring 24.

· On Nov. 2, 2002, the USS Oklahoma City struck a Norwegian merchant ship in the western Mediterranean Sea, resulting in minor damage.

· On Feb. 9, 2001, the USS Greeneville rammed into and sank the Japanese fishing trawler Ehime Maru off Hawaii, killing nine people and sparking tension and protests. The submarine surfaced beneath the trawler while demonstrating an emergency surfacing maneuver for civilian guests aboard during a day trip.


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