updated 4/15/2009 10:50:01 AM ET 2009-04-15T14:50:01

The skipper of an American nuclear submarine that collided with another U.S. Navy vessel at the mouth of the Persian Gulf last month has been relieved of command, the Navy announced Tuesday.

The statement said there was enough information to remove Cmdr. Ryan Brookhart from his post at the helm of the USS Hartford even though an investigation into the incident had not yet been completed.

Brookhart has been temporarily assigned to a staff job in Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The submarine skipper's commanding officer, Rear Adm. Michael J. Connor, "expressed his loss of confidence in Brookhart's ability to command," according to the Navy statement. No further details were provided.

Navy officials did not make Brookhart or Connor available for comment.

Cmdr. Chris Harkins, deputy commander of Submarine Squadron Eight, has taken over the command of the Hartford.

The accident occurred in the pre-dawn hours of March 20 while both ships were on regularly scheduled deployments to conduct security operations.

Officials said at the time that the vessels were heading to port in the same direction when they collided in the Strait of Hormuz. The submarine was submerged at the time.

The Hartford is based in Groton, Conn. and the New Orleans is based in San Diego, Calif. Like all U.S. submarines, the Hartford is nuclear powered. The New Orleans is an amphibious transport dock ship.

The two vessels are now undergoing evaluation and repairs in Bahrain.

The Strait of Hormuz, which links the oil-rich Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, is a strategically vital waterway, with some 40 percent of the world's oil tanker traffic passing through the narrow chokepoint.

Accidents in the region have led to ship commanders losing their posts in the past.

In July 2004, the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy collided with a dhow in the Gulf, leaving no survivors on the traditional Arab sailing boat. The Navy relieved the Kennedy's commander.

In February 2001, a U.S. Navy submarine rammed into a Japanese fishing vessel in waters off Hawaii, killing nine people. The Navy's court of inquiry decided against a court martial for the commander, although the investigation found him largely responsible.

Fleets of U.S. and allied navy vessels patrol the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and western Indian Ocean, attempting to block smuggling of weapons to Iraq and Somalia, nuclear components to Iran, as well as the movement of drug shipments and terrorists.

More on U.S. Navy

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