The U.S. Navy says its divers have accessed a flooded compartment on the USS Fitzgerald and found the bodies of a number of the sailors missing in a collision between the Navy destroyer and a merchant vessel.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, spoke at a news conference at Yokosuka naval base Sunday. He declined to say how many bodies were found, but the search at sea has been called off, he said.
The missing sailors’ names are being withheld, pending notification of their families.
Collision at sea
The USS Fitzgerald collided early Saturday with the merchant vessel ACX Crystal — a ship about four times the size of the destroyer — off the coast of Japan. The 29,000-ton Philippine ship is 222 meters long, while the 8,315-ton Navy destroyer is 154 meters long.
“The damage was significant. There was a big gash under the water,” Aucoin said. Desperate damage control efforts by the crew managed to save the ship, he said.
The U.S. Navy said the collision occurred about midship on the starboard side, damaging two sailor berthing stations, a machinery room and a radio room. The USS Fitzgerald returned to port at Yokosuka, Japan.
The destroyer sustained damage above and below the water line, and had “experienced flooding in some spaces,” the U.S. Navy said.
In addition to the missing sailors, three other sailors, including ship Commander Bryce Benson, were injured.
Benson was airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and was in stable condition with a head injury. The two other sailors suffered cuts and bruises and were taken off the ship.
It was unclear how many others may have been injured in the collision, which occurred about 100 kilometers southwest of Yokosuka at 2:30 a.m. Saturday local time, according to the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which operates in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
At that time, many of the 200 sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald would have been sleeping in their berths.
“It’s been a tough day for our Navy family,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, said Saturday. “I am humbled by the bravery and tenacity of the Fitzgerald crew. Now that the ship is in Yokosuka, I ask that you help the families by maintaining their privacy as we continue the search for our shipmates.”
On Saturday, President Donald Trump said on Twitter: “Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance.”
The merchant vessel ACX Crystal sailed into Tokyo Saturday afternoon with minor damage to its bow. None of the 20-member crew on the Philippine-flagged container ship was reported injured.
According to Jiji Press news agency, the ACX Crystal captain said his ship was “sailing in the same direction as the U.S. destroyer and then collided.”
Such collisions between two ships are rare. It was not immediately clear what caused the vessels to collide.
Yukata Saito of the Japanese coast guard said conditions were clear at the time of the collision early Saturday.
“The volume of ships is heavy in this area and there have been accidents before,” Saito told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.