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USS Fitzgerald: seven missing sailors found dead in flooded area of ship | US news

USS Fitzgerald: seven missing sailors found dead in flooded area of ship | US news

USS Fitzgerald: seven missing sailors found dead in flooded area of ship | US news
June 18
05:17 2017


The seven US navy sailors missing after their destroyer collided with a container ship off the east coast of Japan have been found dead.

US and Japanese ships and aircraft launched a huge air and sea search for the crew but they were found on Sunday in the flooded quarters of the damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald, the US 7th fleet said in a statement.

“As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision, the missing sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments,” it said.

“They are currently being transferred to naval hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified. The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time. The names of the sailors will be released after all notifications are made.”

The Fitzgerald, with the help of tugboats, had arrived back at its home port of Yokosuka naval base, south of Tokyo, on Saturday evening. The other vessel involved in the pre-dawn collision, the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, berthed at Tokyo’s Oi wharf, where its crew was questioned by investigators.

Three people aboard the destroyer were medically evacuated, including Commander Bryce Benson, who was reportedly in a stable condition after being airlifted to the US naval hospital at the Yokosuka base, the navy said. The other two injured crew members were treated at the hospital for cuts and bruises.

The US 7th Fleet said the collision damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the ship’s radio room. Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard the Fitzgerald would have been asleep at the time of the incident.

Water had to be pumped out of flooded areas before the crushed mid-right side of the ship could be searched, the statement said.



This picture shows damage on the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

“This has been a difficult day,” said vice-admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet on 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.”

Rear-admiral Charles Williams, commander of the naval taskforce in the area, said: “I want to highlight the extraordinary courage of the Fitzgerald sailors who contained the flooding, stabilised the ship, and sailed her back to Yokosuka despite the exceptionally trying circumstances.”

Donald Trump tweeted thanks to Japan for its assistance in the search mission, saying: “Thoughts and prayers [are] with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families.”

Initial fears that the guided missile destroyer was at risk of sinking receded after US navy officials said flooding in three damaged sections of the vessel had been brought under control.

While the cause of the accident has yet to be determined, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said the ACX Crystal had made a sharp turn shortly before the collision.

Nippon Yusen KK, the Japanese company that charters the container ship, said in a statement it would cooperate fully with the coastguard’s investigation. All 20 Filipino crew members aboard the ship were safe, it added.

Japanese and US officials were discussing how to conduct the investigation. Japan is permitted to investigate since the collision happened in its waters, but under the countries’ status of forces agreement the US has primary jurisdiction over incidents involving vessels such as the Fitzgerald.

Japan’s coastguard and the US navy plan to question crew members from the ACX Crystal, and could treat the collision as a possible case of endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence, Kyodo news said.

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At about 29,000 tons displacement, the container ship is more than three times the size of the 8,315-ton Fitzgerald, and was carrying 1,080 containers from the central Japanese port of Nagoya to Tokyo.

“Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” a spokesman for the US 7th fleet said.

The Fitzgerald, part of an eight-ship squadron based in Yokosuka, had in February completed $21m worth of upgrades and repairs.

US military commanders in Japan briefed locally based relatives at a family support centre at 9.45am. Before the meeting,one concerned parent wrote on the ship’s Facebook page: “The news just reported 7 missing sailors, this is making my heart ache, please let us know soon! Praying for all aboard!”

Another posted: “My daughter is on this ship as well. We are mess here. Praying for all sailors.”

Rita Schrimsher, whose 23-year-old grandson Jackson Schrimsher was aboard, told the Associated Press about the agony of waiting for news from Japan until he contacted her to say he was safe.

She tweeted: “Just heard the sweetest voice and saw a wonderful face. He’s okay. Thank you all for the prayers.”

For relatives who could not make it to the support centre, the military provided phone numbers to call for information.

The damage of Philippine-registered container ship ACX Crystal.



The damage of Philippine-registered container ship ACX Crystal. Photograph: Iori Sagisawa/AP

Aerial news footage showed the ACX Crystal’s bow on the left side had been dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have suffered major structural damage.

The Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was commissioned in 1995 and was originally based in San Diego, California. It was deployed in a carrier strike group that assisted the war in Iraq in 2003.

The Fitzgerald changed its home port to Yokosuka in 2004 as part of a deployment “to counter ballistic missile threats worldwide”, according to the official history. In November 2011, the then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met the Philippine foreign affairs secretary, Albert del Rosario, onboard the ship to sign the Manila declaration backing multilateral talks to resolve maritime disputes.

The Fitzgerald had been active in Japanese waters to monitor the Korean peninsula following a series of ballistic missile launches by North Korea. It also took part in relief efforts after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.



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