Update: Seven sailors of the US Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald were missing hours after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship four times its size in eastern Japan early on Saturday. As reported earlier (see below), the Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, collided with the merchant vessel at about 2:30 a.m. local time (1730 GMT), some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, the Navy said.
It is still unclear how the collision happened. “Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” the 7th Fleet spokesman said.
The names of the missing sailors were being withheld pending notification of their families, according to the AP. U.S. Navy personnel set up support and counseling services to help families as they sought updates on crew members.
After helping stabilize the USS Fitzgerald, the destroyer USS Dewey joined other American and Japanese vessels and aircraft in the search for the missing sailors. At least three other Navy sailors were injured in the collision, and were medically evacuated to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, including the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was reported to be in stable condition, the Navy said. The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises, while other injured were being assessed aboard the ship, it said.
Search and rescue efforts by U.S. and Japanese aircraft and surface vessels were continuing for the seven missing sailors, the Navy said. Their names are being withheld until the families have been notified, it said. Benson took command of the Fitzgerald on May 13. He had previously commanded a minesweeper based in Sasebo in western Japan.
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The 7th Fleet said in a statement that the crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room. Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard would have been asleep in their berths at the time of the pre-dawn crash. Water was being pumped out of flooded areas and it was unclear how long it would take to get into the crushed mid-right side of the ship once it was at the pier in Yokosuka, the statement said.
“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The Navy said that the Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline, causing “significant damage” and flooding to two berthing spaces and other areas of the ship. The flooding was later stabilized, but it was uncertain how long it would take to gain access to those spaces once the ship is docked, to continue the search for the missing, it said and added that the ship was able to operate under its own power with limited propulsion. The Japanese Coast Guard said separately the Fitzgerald was towed back to Yokosuka by a tugboat at about 3 knots.
Part of an eight-ship squadron based in Yokosuka, the Fitzgerald had in February completed $21 million worth of upgrades and repairs. Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK, which charters the container ship, ASX Crystal, said in a statement it would “cooperate fully” with the Coast Guard’s investigation of the incident. At around 29,000 tons displacement, the ship dwarfs the 8,315-ton U.S. warship, and was carrying 1,080 containers from the port of Nagoya to Tokyo.
None of the 20 crew members aboard the container ship, all Filipino, were injured, and the ship was not leaking oil, Nippon Yusen said. The ship arrived at Tokyo Bay around 5:00 p.m. (0800 GMT), sailing under its own power, the Coast Guard said.
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The Japanese coast guard said it received an emergency call from the container ship, the ACX Crystal, reporting the collision at around 2:20 a.m. (1720 GMT Friday). It was questioning crew members of the ACX Crystal, which is operated by the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., and was treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.
The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 222 meters (730 feet) long, the coast guard said, much larger than the 8,315-ton Navy destroyer. The container ship’s left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage.
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The USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, collided with a merchant vessel southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, the U.S. Navy said in a statement on Friday afternoon. The crash happened at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time on June 17, and the Navy requested Japan’s Coast Guard’s assistance.
Aerial footage of the destroyer after the collision
The Navy said the Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka and the extent of injuries to U.S. personnel “is being determined.” It added that the Navy had requested the assistance of the Japanese Coast Guard.
According to Reuters, Japan’s NHK public television website reported that the commercial vessel is a Philippines container ship and that the destroyer had suffered some flooding and was “unable to operate”.
Full navy statement below:
USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with a merchant vessel at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time, June 17, while operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.
The U.S. Navy has requested Japanese Coast Guard assistance in responding to the collision.
The extent of damage is being determined. The extent of personnel injuries is being determined. The incident will be investigated.
The Fitzgerald recently made a port call to the US Navy’s Subic Bay base in the Philippines and conducted patrols in the South China Sea. The destroyer maintains constant contact with Japan as it is forward-based in Yokosuka.
The latest weekly summary of US naval asset around the world is shown in the map below. It shows that the the Nimitz carrier group is headed for the Middle East, via Hawaii, while the Vinson is also leaving the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, the Persian Gulf is lightly attended, following the departure of the USS Bush which recently was headed west in the Med, only to make an unexpected 180 and is now parked off the coast of Israel.