The U.S. Pacific Fleet confirmed on Tuesday that a sailor from the destroyer Stethem is missing in the South China Sea. A massive search-and-rescue operation inside the contested waters has been launched by the U.S.
The sailor was reported as officially missing at about 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday. U.S. close ally, Japan is also assisting in the search-and-rescue operations. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Sazanami and helicopter carrier Izumo were helping in the operations early Wednesday morning local time. The Joint Personnel Recovery Center Hawaii is also extending assistance in the search.
The still unnamed sailor was reported missing from the USS Stethern around 140 miles west of Subic Bay in the Philippines, another defense treaty close ally of the U.S. in Asia. An official said the missing officer got on board the ship shortly before his disappearance, making it a little odd for him to be missing.
The Stethern also sailed last month within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, which is part of those contested territory being claimed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan as part of the disputes in the South China Sea.
China has always sternly warned the U.S. not to “interfere” with the territorial disputes it has with its smaller neighbors, claiming it would be better for regional peace for U.S. to take a hands-off approach from the issue, even if its ally the Philippines is involved.
This marks the second time for a major search-and-rescue effort in the Asia-Pacific region this summer. The first search in June lasted for 50 hours off Okinawa. The missing sailor was discovered days after, however, to be hiding only in the engineering spaces.
The Navy also lost a sailor earlier in June of the cruiser Normandy off the coast of North Carolina.