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U.S. Navy suspends sea search efforts for missing USS McCain sailors

By Aradhana Aravindan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy on Thursday suspended wider search and rescue operations for sailors missing after the warship USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel in waters near Singapore and Malaysia earlier this week.

A statement on the U.S. Seventh Fleet's website confirmed the identities of one sailor killed and of nine sailors still missing following the collision.

U.S. Navy and Marine Corps divers will continue search-and-recovery efforts inside flooded sections of the warship, the statement said.

"After more than 80 hours of multinational search efforts, the U.S. Navy suspended search and rescue efforts for missing USS John S. McCain sailors in an approximately 2,100-square mile area east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore," it said.

An international search-and-rescue operation involving aircraft, divers and vessels from the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia had been looking for the missing sailors over an area of about 5,500 square kilometres around the crash site.

The U.S. Navy on Tuesday found remains of missing sailors inside sealed sections of the damaged hull of the John S. McCain, which is moored at Singapore's Changi Naval Base.

Earlier on Thursday, the Navy said a medical examination of human remains found by the Malaysian navy about eight nautical miles northwest of the collision site were not one of its missing sailors.

Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority said the multi-agency search and rescue operation was suspended from 9 p.m. local time on Thursday. Singapore will continue to support the U.S. Navy in their search on the warship, it said.

The pre-dawn collision on Monday was the fourth major accident for the U.S. Pacific Fleet this year and has prompted a review of its operations.

The Navy on Wednesday removed Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin from his post, citing "a loss of confidence in his ability to command" after the run of accidents. Aucoin had been due to step down next month. Rear Admiral Phil Sawyer takes command of the fleet.

This week, the U.S. Navy flagged plans for temporary and staggered halts in operations across its global fleet to allow staff to focus on safety.

On Wednesday, Seventh Fleet ships deployed at a facility in Yokosuka, Japan, participated in a one-day operational pause in which officers and crew underwent fresh risk management and communications training.

The Seventh Fleet, headquartered in Japan, operates as many as 70 ships, including the U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, and has about 140 aircraft and 20,000 sailors.

(This story corrects paragraph 3 to read "flooded sections of the warship")

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Writing by Sam Holmes; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)