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US Navy ships collide off California coast after 'steering malfunction'

US Navy via Reuters

The accident occurred as the USS Essex, below, was approaching the USNS Yukon to be refueled.

An 844-foot-long U.S. Navy assault ship collided with a refueling tanker Wednesday about 120 miles off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean.

The USS Essex, a helicopter carrier, was pulling alongside the supply ship Yukon for a routine replenishment at sea when the Essex suffered an apparent "steering malfunction" and the two ships collided. 

While there was damage to both ships, no one was injured and no fuel was spilled.

The ships likely just bounced off each other, maritime safety consultant James W. Allen told The Associated Press.

Even so, Allen said, with massive ships, it can be "a pretty hard bump that can bend metal" and cause dents. The Essex, known as the Iron Gator, resembles a small aircraft carrier, while the Yukon is 677 feet long.

The Essex was on its way to port in San Diego after 12 years of deployment in the Pacific. It had been based at Sasebo, Japan, and was carrying 982 crew members.

The Yukon arrived at the Navy base in San Diego after 3 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) Wednesday with its crew of 82, including 78 civilian mariners and four military crew members.

The Essex was keeping to its planned arrival time of 9 a.m. (12 p.m. ET) Thursday, according to the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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