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U.S. sub, ship collide

Two Navy vessels — the Hartford, a nuclear-powered submarine, and the New Orleans, an amphibious ship — collided before dawn Friday in the Strait of Hormuz. The Navy said there was no disruption to shipping in the strait, through which a fifth of the world's oil passes, but the collision sparked a rise in oil prices anyway. It was the first incident in recent memory of two Navy ships colliding in the Persian Gulf's cramped waterways, the Navy said.

, The 'Hartford'

As are all U.S. submarines, the Hartford, based in Groton, Conn., is nuclear powered.

It was submerged at the time of the collision, said a Navy spokesman, Lt. Nate Christensen, and there was no damage to the sub's nuclear propulsion system, but defense officials in Washington said there appeared to be serious damage to the upper part of the submarine, called the sail. Fifteen sailors were slightly injured but able to return to duty.

The 15-year-old, $900 million submarine is 120 yards long. Both vessels were operating on their own power and were on their way to Bahrain for repairs and evaluation late Friday.

There was no finding of fault yet. Traditionally, a commanding officer deemed responsible for a collision is relieved of command. Submarines traveling while submerged are responsible for guarding against collisions with ships at the surface.

, The 'New Orleans'

The fuel tank of the amphibious transport dock ship was ruptured, resulting in a spill of about 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel, said Christensen, of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. No injuries were reported.

"The spill is closely monitored," Christensen said. "The lightweight diesel, although obviously a fairly substantial amount of gasoline, likely dissipated in the ocean."

Both ships were heading to port and were going in the same direction when the incident occurred about 1 a.m. in the narrow Hormuz.

The New Orleans, which stretches more than 225 yards, is based in San Diego and was just a month into its maiden deployment. It was conducting security operations, including training and counterterrorism missions, as was the Hartford.

Crash spikes oil prices

The unusual collision between members of the same navy sparked a sudden rise in oil prices — which had been declining on the day — even though the strait remained open.

Benchmark crude for April delivery had traded lower for most of the morning, but then erased those losses and rose 39 cents to $52 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Still, with pressure pulling prices down in the financial crisis, the rise was nowhere near what would have been expected months ago, when such a collision would likely have sent prices skyrocketing.

As much as 17 million barrels of oil a day went through the Strait of Hormuz in the first half of 2008, or about 40 percent of all seaborne-traded oil, or 20 percent of all oil traded globally.

Times wires

U.S. sub, ship collide 03/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 10:44pm]
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