7 missing sailors found dead aboard stricken U.S. destroyer following collision off Japan

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US Navy

All seven bodies of U.S. sailors missing after a collision between the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine container vessel have been found aboard the stricken destroyer, local media reported Sunday.

According to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, all seven bodies of the missing sailors were found aboard the destroyer in areas that had become flooded after the collision, such as a living space and a machine room.

The Navy said in a statement that rescuers had gained access to spaces that were damaged during the collision.

“As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing sailors were located,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said, although itself, in contrast to Japanese media, did not specify the number of bodies recovered.

The U.S. military will now proceed to confirm the identity of the bodies and inform the families of the deceased, it said. The bodies are being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka.

Three others were injured in the collision, local media said, including Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, who is in a stable condition in hospital. Two other crew members were airlifted to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, the Navy said.

According to the Japan Coast Guard, the collision occurred about 100 kilometers southwest of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, and was first reported by the Philippine container vessel at around 2:25 a.m. local time on Saturday.

Along with the U.S. Navy, the Japan Coast Guard is investigating the collision and has questioned crew members of the 29,060-ton Philippine ACX Crystal container vessel on suspicion of possible endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence, according to local media reports.

NHK said that a record aboard the Philippine ship shows that it took a sharp right turn southeast of the Izu Peninsula at around 1:30 a.m., about an hour before the collision was reported.

The vessel, which was carrying 1,080 containers, was recorded as traveling east for 30 minutes before making a U-turn and doubling back into the waters where the collision with the 8,315-ton Aegis-equipped Fitzgerald took place.

Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen, operator of the Philippine vessel, said in a statement that it is collaborating with the ship owner and fully cooperating with the investigation by the relevant authorities.

The shipping firm, headquartered in Tokyo and one of the largest shipping companies in the world, said that all crew members aboard the ACX Crystal have been confirmed to be safe and that it has set up its own independent task force to further probe the details of the collision and how to proceed.

A myriad of information is currently being analyzed by all sides on the cause of the collision, sources close to the matter have said, such as the exact locations of the two vessels, the speed they were traveling at, their routes, their radar and other surveillance capabilities, as well as the weather conditions at the time.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JAM) said that at the time of the collision, the weather and therefore visibility should have been clear and the waves were at a height of around 2 meters.

The weather agency had not issued any advisories or warnings for the area at the time.
The 154 meter-long U.S. guided-missile destroyer, which suffered considerable damage to its right side in the collision, is part of the U.S. 7th Fleet and has returned to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, about 50 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

The 222.6-meter-long Philippine ship, which was sailing towards Tokyo from Nagoya in central Japan, has since docked at a port in Tokyo with visible scrape marks from the collision on the left side of its bow.

U.S. President Donald Trump thanked Japan for its help, which involved multiple vessels and planes being deployed to search for the missing sailors following the pre-dawn collison.

“Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning Washington time.

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