China on Tuesday said the United States lacked “transparency and responsibility” after the U.S. Navy admitted one of its submarines had struck an underwater mountain in the South China Sea last month.
The USS Connecticut, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, “grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a Monday statement.
The incident, which injured 11 crew members, happened on Oct. 2, but the Navy did not report it until five days later. The service also hasn’t fully explained how the mistake happened or how damaged the vessel is.
China now demands the U.S. “give a detailed account of the accident,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing, according to The Associated Press.
Wang also said Washington has failed to give “a clear explanation” of why the Navy submarine was in the contested waterway and “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 Navy has said the submarine’s nuclear reactor and propulsion system were not damaged, but USNI News reported that the vessel was damaged in its forward section, including its ballast tanks, which are used to control buoyancy.
The submarine is currently in Guam for a damage assessment, and the 7th Fleet “will determine whether follow-on actions — including accountability — are appropriate.”
The collision took place in the midst of growing tensions between the United States and China, which claims sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea and has built up artificial islands to house its military assets.
But Washington has stressed that the waterway — a vital shipping lane for trillions of dollars of international trade annually — must maintain freedom of navigation. The U.S. military has regularly enforced that stance with naval patrols, training missions and flights in the region.