THE bodies of missing sailors have been found in flooded compartments of the USS Fitzgerald.
The warship came close to sinking after a collision with a container ship off Japan tore a gash under its waterline, the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet commander said yesterday.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin declined to say how many of the seven missing sailors had been recovered, but Japanese media said all had died. “Out of concern for the families and the notification process, I will decline to state how many we have found at this time,” Aucoin told a news conference.
The search at sea had ended, Aucoin said.
The USS Fitzgerald could have foundered, or even sunk, but for the crew’s desperate efforts to save the ship, he said.
“The damage was significant. There was a big gash under the water,” Aucoin said at Yokosuka naval base, home of the US Seventh Fleet, the docked Fitzgerald behind him.
“A significant portion of the crew was sleeping” when the destroyer collided with the Philippine-flagged container ship, destroying the commander’s cabin, he said.
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.
Multiple US and Japanese investigations are under way on how a ship as large as the container could ram into the warship in clear weather.
Aucoin was asked if damage on the starboard side indicated the US ship could have been at fault, but he declined to speculate on the cause of the collision. Maritime rules suggest vessels are supposed to give way to ships on their starboard.
Vessel three times its size
The Seventh Fleet said in a statement earlier yesterday: “Divers were able to access the space and found a number of bodies.” They were transferred to a US naval hospital for identification, it said.
The Fitzgerald collided with the merchant vessel more than three times its size some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka early on Saturday.
Three people were medically evacuated to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka after the collision, including the ship’s commanding officer, Bryce Benson, who was reported to be in a stable condition.
The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises.
The Fitzgerald limped 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, he added.
Benson took command of the Fitzgerald on May 13. He had previously commanded a minesweeper based in Sasebo in western Japan.
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.
The US Navy said the collision happened at about 2:30am local time, while the Japanese Coast Guard said it was 1:30am.
Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK, which charters the container ship, ACX Crystal, said in a statement it would “cooperate fully” with the Coast Guard investigation.
None of the 20 crew on the container ship, all Filipino, were injured.