Search for seven U.S. sailors ends after bodies found on ship - KUSI News - San Diego, CA

Search for seven U.S. sailors ends after bodies found on ship

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YOKOSUKA (KUSI) — The bodies of seven U.S. Navy sailors who went missing after a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off the Japanese coast were found Sunday in flooded compartments of the ship, including sleeping quarters.

“A number of” bodies were found by Navy divers in the USS Fitzgerald, a day after the destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship four times its size, said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet. Aucoin, speaking at a news conference at the 7th Fleet’s home base in Yokosuka, Japan, wouldn’t say how many bodies were recovered, pending notification of next of kin.

A large portion of the crew was asleep when the collision happened at 2:20 a.m. Saturday. One machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged. The destroyer was hit on the it's side, causing a significant impact.  Aucoin said the destroyer was returned to Yokosuka on Saturday evening with the help of tug boats. 

The victims might have been killed by the impact of the collision or drowned in the flooding, said Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell, who led the media on a visit to get a firsthand look at the mangled destroyer.

Aucoin described the damage and flooding as extensive, including a big puncture under the ship’s waterline, and said the crew had to fight to keep the destroyer afloat.

“The damage was significant,” he said. “This was not a small collision.”

Aucoin wouldn’t speculate on the cause of the collision, and said he would order a thorough investigation.

“You can’t see most of the damage — the damage is mostly underneath the waterline, and it’s a large gash near the keel of the ship,” Aucoin said. “So the water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic.”

The Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted from the ship’s deck after daybreak Saturday to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka with a head injury. Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were also flown out by helicopter.

Aucoin said Benson’s cabin was destroyed. “He is lucky to be alive,” he said.

Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, though the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.

The damage to the destroyer suggests that the container ship, the ACX Crystal, might have slammed into it at a high speed. This has raised questions as to whether there was proper communication between the two vessels, particularly given how busy the waters where the collision occurred are.

The waters in the area see as many as 400 ships pass through every day, according to Japan’s coast guard. They are especially congested in the early hours of the day, with ships carrying cargo for early morning delivery in Tokyo. The waters also have fast currents, making it a tricky area that requires experience and skill to navigate.

The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 222 meters (730 feet) long, much larger than the 8,315-ton destroyer. The container ship’s left bow was dented and scraped, and it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage when it was docked in the Tokyo bay late Saturday.

The container ship was seen making a U-turn before the collision on some ship trackers, a move that has raised questions about what happened. Both Aucoin and the Japanese coast guard, however, said it was too early to determine what led to the collision.

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