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Essex collides with oiler off California coast

May. 16, 2012 - 05:26PM   |   Last Updated: May. 16, 2012 - 05:26PM  |  
The oiler Yukon, pictured, has collided with the amphibious assault ship Essex.
The oiler Yukon, pictured, has collided with the amphibious assault ship Essex. (Navy)
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SAN DIEGO — The amphibious assault ship Essex collided with the oiler Yukon during an underway replenishment operation Wednesday in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California, 3rd Fleet said in a statement.

The collision happened at 9:20 a.m. PDT about 120 miles out at sea as Essex approached the Yukon for a scheduled underway replenishment, Cmdr. Charlie Brown, a fleet spokesman, said.

"Both ships reported some damage," Brown said. The damage "is still being assessed" but no injuries were reported.

The collision appeared "due to an apparent steerage malfunction" aboard Essex, 3rd Fleet said. No fuel was spilled, "and the ships' fuel tanks and systems were not compromised."

The Essex was set to pull into San Diego Bay on Thursday, returning to its former stateside homeport after spending a dozen years with the forward-deployed naval forces in Japan.

Its crew of San Diego-based sailors and officers most recently were working aboard amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which completed a "hull swap" with Essex in Sasebo, Japan, on April 23.

For the swap, the Sasebo-based crew handed over Essex and boarded Bonhomme Richard, which last year had completed an in-depth maintenance overhaul and upgrades to prepare for its new assignment with Japan-based Task Force 76 and 7th Fleet.

"It wasn't easy to turnover a ship we had poured so much blood, sweat, toil and tears into," Capt. Chuck Linchfield, Essex's skipper, said of the Bonhomme Richard. "However, the crew never looked back. They took immediate ownership of Essex. We spent the last 18 days in transit across the Pacific defining for ourselves what it means to be Essex."

After arriving in San Diego, the big-deck Essex, nicknamed the "Iron Gator," will prepare to leave for Hawaii this summer for the biennial "Rim of the Pacific" exercise, 3rd Fleet officials said in a news release. The Pacific Fleet exercise will run from June 29 to Aug. 3. Then, Essex will go into a San Diego shipyard for an extensive maintenance period.

The Yukon was also scheduled to take part in the exercise as one of the ships testing a biofuel mix for the Navy's "Great Green Fleet" project.

The collision isn't the first for Yukon, which like all oilers, frequently has ships maneuvering at close range to come alongside for fuel and stores. In July 2000, Yukon was accidentally rammed by amphibious transport dock Denver during its underway replenishment approach.

The Essex collision is the first warship-to-warship collision in three years. The last occurred in 2009 in the Strait of Hormuz, when the attack submarine Hartford and the amphibious transport dock New Orleans collided. Since then, there have been a few navigation incidents — buoy strikes by destroyer The Sullivans and sub tender Emory S. Land and erratic driving by ballistic missile submarine Kentucky.

Staff writer sfellman@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Sam Fellman contributed to this report.

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