US Navy sailors found dead after USS Fitzgerald collides with Philippine container ship | News | DW | 17.06.2017
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US Navy sailors found dead after USS Fitzgerald collides with Philippine container ship

At least seven sailors were killed and three injured after a US Navy destroyer collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Officials have begun questioning crew about the cause of the crash.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (Reuters/Kyodo)

The Japanese Coast Guard said the US ship was experiencing some flooding but was not in danger of sinking

The bodies of seven missing crew members have been found in the hull of a US Navy guided missile destroyer that collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel off the coast of Japan early Saturday morning.

A rescue mission had been underway, with authorities wondering if the men had fallen overboard until the men were found in the damaged vessel.

 "This has been a difficult day," said Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin of the US 7th Fleet earlier in the day. "I am humbled by the bravery and tenacity of the Fitzgerald crew."

The USS Fitzgerald hit the ACX Crystal container ship 56 nautical miles (104 kilometers/64 miles) southwest of Yokosuka, the US Navy said in a statement. Three people, including the commanding officer, Bryce Benson, were injured in the collision. They were airlifted to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka where their condition was stable. They were treated for lacerations and bruises. 

According to the Navy, Benson, was airlifted early Saturday to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka with a head injury, but was in stable condition. 

Pre-dawn crash

The ships collided at about 2:30 a.m. local time Saturday (1730 UTC Friday). It remained unclear what caused the crash, and authorities were reportedly questioning crew members from the ACX Crystal late on Saturday.

Aerial footage of the destroyer showing a large dent in its starboard (right) side.

The 20-man crew on board the ACX Crystal was uninjured, Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen KK told local media.

The Japanese coastguard assisted in the search and rescue operation for the seven soldiers, who were at first reported as missing.

"Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors," said Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet. "We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance."

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has said it was monitoring events closely.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (Reuters/Kyodo)

The Japanese Coast Guard said the US ship was experiencing some flooding but was not in danger of sinking

 

An official said the destroyer had "experienced flooding in some spaces," as it headed back to home port Yokosuka. Once there, the Navy began to pump water out of the flooded areas, including two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room. Most of the 200 sailors would have been sleeping during the early morning crash.


Philippine-registered container ship ACX Crystal (Reuters/Kyodo)

The ACX Crystal container ship suffered damage on the port side

Nervous relatives

Some relatives of crew members are awaiting news of their loved ones, with others relieved to discover they are safe and sound.

 "Just heard the sweetest voice and saw a wonderful face. He's okay. Thank you all for the prayers," Rita Schrimsher of Athens, Alabama, tweeted after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson Jackson Schrimsher via Facetime. She had earlier told The Associated Press that she had not heard from him since Wednesday.

In May, the USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel, but both ships were able to operate under their own power.

Yokosuka and the waters to its south belong to a busy commercial waterway plied by commercial vessels sailing to and from Japan's two biggest container ports in Tokyo and Yokohama.

The USS Fitzgerald is a 154-meter (505-foot) Arleigh Burke class gas-turbine propelled destroyer launched in 1994. The ACX Crystal is a 213-meter (700-foot) container ship built in 2008.

es/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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