The U.S. Navy has identified the sailor who went missing from the USS Stethem on August 1 as Lt. Steven D. Hopkins. Lt. Hopkins, a graduate of the Citadel and a father of two, had previously served aboard USS Ramage, USS Normandy and with the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force. The circumstances of his disappearance are under investigation.
At the time that Lt. Hopkins went missing, Stethem was conducting routine operations at a position about 120 nm to the west of Subic Bay, putting her near to disputed Scarborough Shoal. When Hopkins was reported missing, the Navy worked with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to search an area of roughly 10,000 square nm. The search was called off at 1500 hours August 4.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our lost shipmate, their family, and the officers and crew of USS Stethem,” said Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Task Force 70, at the time the search was ended. “I appreciate greatly the dedication and professionalism shown by all who participated in the search efforts.”
The participation of the PLAN in the search was noteworthy, as the service is a near-peer competitor of the USN in the South China Sea. USNI reported that the Chinese units asked to join in the effort.
The cooperative search stands in contrast to recent events: last month, the Stethemconducted a freedom-of-navigation passage (FONOPS) within 12 nm of Triton Island in the Paracels, a Chinese-occupied land feature in the hotly-disputed region. The transit prompted stern warnings from the Chinese foreign ministry, which described the Stethem’s movements as a “serious political and military provocation.” The ministry suggested that the PLAN had had to dispatch warships to “drive away” the American destroyer.