April 22, 2018

Mysterious ship crash off Japan leaves 7 US sailors missing

18 June 2017, 02:31 | Lena Norman

(Japan's Defense Ministry via AP).

The 154-meter Fitzgerald-which was commissioned in 1995 and was deployed in the Iraq war in 2003-is based in Yokosuka and operates in the Pacific and the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Seven US sailors were missing and a skipper injured after their Navy destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Japan early Saturday, with the badly damaged US vessel partially flooded.

The US Seventh Fleet later wrote on Twitter: 'Flooding has been stabilised and Sailors from USS Dewey are assisting in damage control efforts'.

Japan's coast guard, which is probing the incident, has sent five vessels, two planes and a team of specially trained rescue personnel to help in the search for the missing crew, a spokesman said.

The coastguard said none of the 20 crew members on board the merchant vessel were injured.

The Navy ship's starboard side was heavily damaged in the collision, but the vessel later managed to slowly return to its base in Yokosuka, with the assistance of United States navy tug boats.

"There are seven sailors unaccounted for; the ship and the Japanese Coast Guard continues to search for them". So far, at least three sailors are said to have been evacuated.

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"The collision affected Fitzgerald's forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room". As the crash happened before dawn, most of the 200-plus sailors on the ship would have been asleep.

A search of some parts of the ship will continue once they can be reached after the vessel is pier-side at Yokosuka Naval Base, its home port.

The 7th Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, thanked the Japanese coast guard in a post on the fleet's Facebook page, adding: "We are committed to ensuring the safe return of the ship to port in Yokosuka". "All of our thoughts and prayers are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families", said Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations.

"This has been a hard day", Aucoin said, adding that the search for missing shipmates would continue now that the vessel was back in Yokosuka.

The USS Fitzgerald's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was reportedly in stable condition after being airlifted to the US Naval Hospital on the Yokosuka base, the Navy said. Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated. 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. "Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance", US President Donald Trump said in a tweet.

In Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is closely monitoring reports of the collision between USS Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal at around 1:30 a.m. (Manila time).

"The volume of ships is heavy in this area and there have been accidents before", coast guard official Yutaka Saito told Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

Forces overnight intensified their search for the missing sailors and tried to get a handle on the cause of a crash in a busy maritime zone crossed daily by 400 to 500 ships.

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