WASHINGTON (AP) – The Navy is relieving the captain of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy in connection with a collision with a small boat in the Persian Gulf in July.

In the crash, a dhow smashed into the starboard hull the Kennedy. No survivors from the traditional Arab sailing boat were found. The dhow’s origin, cargo and destination are unknown.

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 small boat, Navy officials said.

Capt. Stephen B. Squires, the commander of the Mayport, Fla.,-based Kennedy, will be temporarily assigned to duties in the United States, a statement from the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet says.

A Navy spokesman said Squires’ removal from command was temporary pending the completion of an investigation into the collision.

Vice Adm. David C. Nichols Jr., the 5th Fleet’s commander, will formally relieve Squires on Friday, the Navy said.

The captain will be replaced by Capt. John W. Miller, who previously commanded the carrier USS Constellation, which was decommissioned last year.

The Kennedy is the only carrier operating in the Persian Gulf. Officials said its operations have been unaffected by the July 22 collision.

Navy officials said the collision appears to have been accidental, but acknowledged it raised the specter of terrorist attacks against U.S. warships at sea, particularly because a small boat was able to penetrate the carrier’s defenses to strike its hull.

The deadliest terrorist attack on a U.S. ship in the Gulf came on Oct. 12, 2000, when a bomb-carrying boat rammed the hull of the USS Cole, a destroyer, in the port of Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors were killed. Senior al-Qaida operatives directed the attack.

This past April 24, a dhow approached an Iraqi oil platform in the Gulf. A Coast Guard patrol vessel, the USS Firebolt, launched a small boat to intercept it. When the small U.S. craft approached, the dhow exploded, killing two U.S. sailors and a Coast Guardsman.

At roughly the same time, two speedboats approached a different oil terminal in the area. Security guards opened fire on them before the boats exploded.

A previous captain of the Kennedy lost his command in late 2001 when the ship failed an inspection.

On the Net:

USS John F. Kennedy: http://www.navy.mil/homepages/cv67

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