China demands more information on U.S. submarine accident in South China Sea

Fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut
The fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut departs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state in 2016.
(Thiep Van Nguyen II / U.S. Navy)

China on Tuesday accused the U.S. of a “lack of transparency and responsibility” regarding an accident involving an American submarine in the South China Sea last month.

At a daily briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the U.S. should provide full details of the incident, which has revived a dispute between the two countries over the strategic waterway.

“We once again urge the U.S. to give a detailed account of the accident,” he said.


Two U.S. Navy officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Monday that the service had determined the nuclear-powered USS Connecticut struck a seamount, or underwater mountain.

The Navy has yet to fully explain how or why the vessel struck the seamount or to reveal the extent of damage to the Seawolf-class submarine.

Wang said the U.S. has so far failed to offer “a clear explanation” of what the submarine was doing in the area, as well as “the specific location of the accident, whether it was in another country’s exclusive economic zone or even territorial waters, whether it caused a nuclear leak or damaged marine environment.”

The U.S. will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia as President Biden strengthens a network of alliances as a bulwark against China.

China claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of international trade pass each year. Six governments claim islands, atolls and exclusive economic zones in the sea, while the U.S. insists that freedom of navigation be maintained, reinforcing that with regular military flights, naval patrols and training missions around the region.

The Navy has said the submarine’s nuclear reactor and propulsion system were not damaged. The collision caused a small number of moderate and minor injuries to the crew.

USNI News, which was first to report that the submarine had struck a seamount, said damage to the forward section of the sub included its ballast tanks.

The incident happened Oct. 2 but was not reported by the Navy until five days later. The vessel sailed to Guam for a damage assessment, where it remains.