Seven US Navy sailors went missing after US Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship more than three times its size in eastern Japan early on Saturday.
The Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, sailed back to its home port in Japan early Saturday evening, while US and Japanese rescue teams were continuing their search for the missing crew members – who have not been named – more than 12 hours after the destroyer’s collision with the ACX Crystal, a Philippine-registered container ship.
“There are seven sailors unaccounted for; the ship and the Japanese Coast Guard continues to search for them,” the Navy said.
The statement hinted that the missing sailors could be trapped in the damaged area of the destroyer.
“It remains uncertain how long it will take to gain access to the spaces once the ship is pier side … to methodically continue the search for the missing,” the statement added.
The collision happened at about 2:30 a.m. local time (1730 GMT), some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, the Navy said.
Three aboard the destroyer had been medically evacuated to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, including the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was reported to be in stable condition, the Navy said. The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises, while other injured were being assessed aboard the ship, it said.
Benson took command of the Fitzgerald on May 13. He had previously commanded a minesweeper based in Sasebo in western Japan.
CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT
While the cause of the collision remains unclear, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said the ACX Crystal had made a sharp turn shortly before the collision.
“Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” the 7th Fleet spokesman said.
Nippon Yusen KK, the Japanese company that charters the container ship, said in a statement it would collaborate fully with the coastguard’s investigation of the incident. All 20 Filipino crew members aboard the ship were safe, it added.
The Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline, causing “significant damage” and flooding to two berthing spaces and other areas of the ship, the Navy said.
Initial fears that the guided missile destroyer was at risk of sinking receded after US navy officials said flooding in three damaged sections of the vessel had been stabilized.
Back in Yokosuka, divers will inspect the damage and develop a plan for repairs, the Navy said.
The ship was able to operate under its own power with limited propulsion, the Navy said. The Japanese Coast Guard said separately the Fitzgerald was towed back to Yokosuka by a tugboat at about 3 knots.
Part of an eight-ship squadron based in Yokosuka, the Fitzgerald had in February completed $21 million worth of upgrades and repairs.