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U.S. Navy vessels collide in Strait of Hormuz

The nuclear-powered submarine Hartford and the amphibious assault vehicle New Orleans were heading into the Persian Gulf at the time. Fifteen sailors are slightly injured.

March 21, 2009|Borzou Daragahi and Julian E. Barnes

BEIRUT AND WASHINGTON — A nuclear-powered Navy submarine collided with another U.S. warship in the narrow Strait of Hormuz early Friday in what officials are calling the first incident of its kind in the Persian Gulf.

At least 15 sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered submarine Hartford were slightly injured when it collided with the amphibious transport dock New Orleans, the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet announced.

The Navy said the Hartford's nuclear propulsion plant was undamaged. But the collision ruptured the New Orleans' fuel tank and caused the spillage of 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

Defense officials in Washington said there appeared to be serious damage to the upper part of the sub, called the sail. Initial assessments indicated it could be repaired. The extent of damage to the other vessel was less clear.

The New Orleans is just a month into its maiden deployment. It was conducting security operations, including training and counter-terrorism missions, officials said.

There has been no finding of fault so far. Traditionally, a commanding officer deemed responsible for a collision is relieved of command. However, submarines traveling while submerged are responsible for guarding against collisions with ships at the surface.

Officials said the incident was the first in recent memory in which two Navy ships struck each other in the oil-rich gulf's cramped waterways, where U.S. war vessels stand ready to confront the naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as well as pirates.

In January 2007, the nuclear-powered submarine Newport News struck a Japanese oil tanker.

Both of the U.S. vessels were heading into the gulf at the time of Friday's accident, Navy Lt. Stephanie Murdock said in a telephone interview. The ships headed under their own power to Bahrain, where they are being inspected.

None of the injuries aboard the submarine were life-threatening, Murdock said. "All were evaluated as being fit for duty," she said.

The 15-year-old, $900-million submarine is 120 yards long; the New Orleans stretches more than 225 yards.

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daragahi@latimes.com

julian.barnes@latimes.com

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