- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MANAMA, BAHRAIN (AP) - The skipper of an American nuclear submarine that collided with another U.S. Navy vessel at the mouth of the Persian Gulf last month has been relieved of command, the Navy said.

The statement Tuesday said there was enough information to remove Cmdr. Ryan Brookhart from his post at the helm of the USS Hartford even though an investigation into the incident is not done yet. He has been temporarily assigned to a staff job in Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The submarine skipper’s commanding officer, Rear Adm. Michael J. Connor, “expressed his loss of confidence in Brookhart’s ability to command,” according to the Navy statement.

Navy officials did not make Brookhart or Connor available for comment.

Cmdr. Chris Harkins, deputy commander of Submarine Squadron Eight, has taken over the command of the Hartford.

The accident occurred in the pre-dawn hours of March 20 while both ships were on regularly scheduled deployments to conduct security operations. Officials said the vessels were heading to port in the same direction when they collided in the Strait of Hormuz. The submarine was submerged at the time.

The Hartford is based in Groton, Conn. and the New Orleans is based in San Diego, Calif. Like all U.S. submarines, the Hartford is nuclear powered. The New Orleans is an amphibious transport dock ship.

The accident, which caused a diesel fuel spill but no damage to the submarine’s nuclear propulsion system, left the New Orleans with a hole 16 to 18 feet wide and damaged ballast tanks. The Hartford suffered damage to its sail, periscope and port bow plane.

The Strait of Hormuz, which links the oil-rich Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, is a strategically vital waterway. Some 40 percent of the world’s oil tanker traffic passing through the narrow chokepoint.

Collisions have led to ship commanders losing their posts in the past.

In July 2004, the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy collided with a dhow in the Gulf, leaving no survivors on the traditional Arab sailing boat. The Navy relieved the Kennedy’s commander.

In February 2001, a U.S. Navy submarine rammed into a Japanese fishing vessel in waters off Hawaii, killing nine people. The Navy’s court of inquiry decided against a court martial for the commander, although the investigation found him largely responsible.

The March accident was not the Hartford’s first. In October 2003, the submarine ran aground off the coast of Sardinia. Its commander was later relieved from duty.

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