Seven missing after USS Fitzgerald collides with merchant ship off Japan Rescuers search for crew as destroyer’s captain airlifted to hospital after incident 62 miles off the coast Seven sailors missing after US navy ship collision off Japan’s coast

 

The Guardian

 Rescuers search for crew as destroyer’s captain airlifted to hospital after incident 62 miles off the coast

Seven sailors missing after US navy ship collision off Japan’s coast

 

Justin McCurry and Daniel Hurst in Tokyo

Saturday 17 June 2017 09.01 BSTFirst published on Friday 16 June 2017 22.19 BST

Seven US navy sailors are missing and three others are being treated for injuries after their destroyer collided with a container ship off the east coast of Japan on Saturday morning.

US and Japanese rescue teams were continuing their search for the missing crew members – who have not been named – more than 12 hours after the USS Fitzgerald collided with the ACX Crystal, a Philippine-registered container ship, about 62 miles (100km) south-west of the military port city of Yokosuka.

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.

Three people aboard the destroyer were medically evacuated, including its commanding officer, 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.

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.

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

Nippon Yusen KK, the Japanese company that charters the container ship, said in a statement it would cooperate fully with the coastguard’s investigation of the incident. 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.

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.

 

Most of the 200-plus sailors aboard the ship would have been asleep in their berths, some of which reportedly flooded, when the collision occurred at 2.20am local time.

Although its propulsion was affected by the collision, the vessel was sailing back to Yokosuka under its own power. It had sustained damage to its starboard side in the collision with the 26,362-tonne ACX Crystal.

The full extent of damage to the ship and injuries to its crew were still being determined, the navy said.

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

Japanese coastguard officials dispatched patrol vessels and a plane while the maritime self-defence force provided a helicopter to search the area south-west of Yokosuka.

Rescuers were searching for seven sailors thought to have been thrown into the sea or possibly trapped inside damaged sections of the destroyer, said Japanese coast guard spokesman Yoshihito Nakamura.

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.

Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said the authorities would update the families as more information was learned.

 

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

“Thank you for your well wishes and messages of concern,” he said in a statement. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families.”

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Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific fleet, added: “Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the wellbeing of the sailors. We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”

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 USS Dewey was on its way to the area. US navy aircraft would also join Japan’s coastguard and maritime self-defence force helicopters, ships and aircraft to assist in the search.

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.