WASHINGTON -- The Navy is investigating how a small wooden boat was able to approach and ram into an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf last month, military officials said.
The collision appears to be accidental, Navy official says, but has renewed fears of suicide attacks against US warships. Nearly four years ago, a deadly terrorist strike against a Navy destroyer in Yemen led to significant changes in the way the service deals with civilian craft.
On the night of July 22, a dhow smashed into the starboard hull of the USS John F. Kennedy and sank. No survivors from the traditional Arab sailing boat were found. The dhow's origin, cargo, and destination are unknown.
Dhows are commonly used as both transports and fishing boats. But a dhow also was used in a fatal attack in the Gulf in April.
Rear Admiral Evan M. Chanik, director of the programming division for the chief of naval operations, will investigate what went wrong as the dhow closed on the Kennedy, officials said.
The Kennedy itself was unscathed, but two jet fighters on the deck were damaged when one slid into the other as the carrier made a hard turn to avoid the dhow, several Navy officials said.
''Right now there is nothing to indicate this is anything other than an accident," said Commander Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet in Bahrain. ''That it occurred is obviously not normal."
The Kennedy was in port yesterday at Bahrain on a visit unrelated to the collision, he said.
Several Navy officials, some speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is under way, described some of the chain of events that led to the collision:
The Kennedy was steaming in international waters. A fighter was approaching to land. At some point, the dhow was detected. But the Kennedy's commander decided to maintain the ship's course while it finished the delicate operation of receiving a plane.
After the plane landed, the Kennedy began a hard turn to avoid the dhow. It was too late; the boat struck the Kennedy's hull and sank. The deck of the Kennedy pitched sideways with the turn and the just-landed plane slid into a second fighter parked nearby. No one was hurt. Damage to the planes, an F-14 and an F-18, can be repaired.
The only other warship nearby, the British frigate HMS Somerset, was trailing the Kennedy in case someone went overboard during flight operations, Graybeal said.
The Somerset and Kennedy launched boats and helicopters to look for survivors; none was found. Some debris from the dhow was recovered. No one has contacted the Navy about a missing boat or mariners, Graybeal said.
The officials could not describe how far away the dhow was detected or what steps the Kennedy took to signal the boat away.
Carriers usually travel with several escorts, including destroyers and cruisers capable of intercepting missile attacks, surface ships and submarines.