The US Navy called off the search of missing sailors, who went missing after their destroyer collided with a container ship off the Japanese coast, after bodies were found in the ship.
Seven sailors were missing when the 29,000-ton 22-meter container ship ACX Crystal collided with the much smaller than the 8,315-ton USS Fitzgerald Navy destroyer. The container ship’s left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, described the damage and flooding as extensive, including a big puncture under the waterline. The crew had to fight to keep the ship afloat, he said, and the ship’s captain is lucky to have survived.
Navy divers found “a number of” bodies in the ship Sunday, a day after it returned to the 7th Fleet’s home base in Yokosuka, Japan, with the help of tug boats. Aucoin, speaking at a news conference at the base, wouldn’t say how many bodies were recovered, pending notification of next of kin.
He said much of the crew of about 300 was asleep when the collision happened at 2:20 a.m. Saturday, and that one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged.
“You can’t see most of the damage, the damage is mostly underneath the waterline, and it’s a large gash near the keel of the ship,” he said. “So the water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic.”
The Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted from the ship’s deck after daybreak Saturday to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka with a head injury. Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were also flown out by helicopter.
“His cabin was destroyed, he is lucky to be alive,” Aucoin said of Benson.
The Fitzgerald is salvageable, he said, but repairs will likely take months. “Hopefully less than a year. You will see the USS Fitzgerald back,” Aucoin said.
All of the ACX Crystal’s 20-member Filipino crew were safe, said Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., which operates the Philippine-flagged ship.
The Japanese coast guard questioned crew members of the ACX Crystal, and is treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.
Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, though the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.
The victims might have been killed by the impact of the crash or drowned in the flooding, said Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell, who led news media on a visit to get a first-hand look at the mangled vessel.
Aucoin wouldn’t speculate on the cause of the collision. He said he would order a full and thorough investigation.
Japanese media said all seven of the sailors who had been reported missing were found dead.
“The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time,” the US Seventh Fleet said in a statement.
The USS Fitzgerald sailed into port on Saturday evening, listing around 5 degrees, a US Navy spokesman in Yokosuka said. The flooding was in two berthing compartments, the radio room and auxiliary machine room, he said.
There were 285 crew onboard, the spokesman said.
I t was unclear how the collision happened. “Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” a spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet said.
Japanese authorities were looking into the possibility of “endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence”, Japanese media reported, but it was not clear whether that might apply to either or both of the vessels.