Bodies of US sailors found in flooded destroyer after crash

YOKOSUKA, Japan (AFP) – The bodies of US sailors missing after their destroyer collided with a container ship off Japan have been found in flooded sleeping berths, a day after the accident tore a huge gash in the warship’s side, the US Navy said yesterday.

Seven sailors were reported missing after Saturday’s predawn collision, triggering a major search operation off Japan’s Pacific coast, and US authorities tacitly acknowledged there were no survivors.

“The search and rescue is over,” US 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin told reporters, describing huge amounts of water that gushed into the sleeping compartments after part of the ship’s right side was caved in.

The Navy said it had found “a number” of bodies inside the guided missile destroyer, but did not specify if all seven crew had been found dead in the search that took place after it limped back into harbour.

A final toll would not be released until the sailors’ families had been contacted, the navy said.

Vice Adm Joseph Aucoin (R), Commander of the US 7th Fleet, speaks at a press conference at the US Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo yesterday. - AP
Vice Adm Joseph Aucoin (R), Commander of the US 7th Fleet, speaks at a press conference at the US Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo yesterday. – AP

However, Aucoin said the destroyer sustained “a large gash” below the waterline, and nearby crew would have had little chance to escape the “tremendous” amount of water that poured through the breach.

“It was 2.20 in the morning. A significant part of the crew was sleeping,” he added, standing on the pier in front of the docked destroyer at its base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.

“There wasn’t a lot of time in spaces that were open to the sea.

“So, it was traumatic. As to how much warning they had – I don’t know.”

The damaged ship was salvageable but would likely take months to fix, Aucoin said.

The container ship, the 222-metre Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, came into port with large scrapes on its bow, but none of its 20 crew were injured, Japan’s coastguard said.

Aucoin declined to say what might be to blame for the accident, the cause of which is being investigated.

“We will update you once the investigation process is complete,” he said.

“I’m not going to speculate on what happened… Hopefully we’ll get those answers, but I don’t have them right now.”

The accident set off a major US-Japanese search and rescue operation Saturday.

“Our government expresses its heartfelt solidarity with the United States at this difficult time, and will spare no effort in supplying any and all assistance,” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement yesterday.

The 154-metre Fitzgerald – commissioned in 1995 and deployed in the Iraq war in 2003 – was pulled by a tugboat back to its base on Saturday, where divers searched damaged areas of the destroyer.

Earlier yesterday, the Navy said the dead US crew were found by the divers.