US and Japanese vessels and aircraft were yesterday searching for seven US sailors who were missing after their navy destroyer collided before dawn with a container ship four times its size off the coast of Japan.
The USS Fitzgerald was back at its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo, by sunset yesterday, its crew lined up on deck.
The Philippine-flagged container ship was berthed at Tokyo’s Oi wharf, where officials began questioning crew members about the cause of the nighttime crash.
After helping stabilize the USS Fitzgerald, the destroyer USS Dewey joined other US and Japanese vessels and aircraft in the search for the missing sailors.
At least three other Navy sailors were injured in the collision.
Family members were frantically seeking news, appealing via social media for calls from sailors aboard the ship.
The crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room, the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement.
Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard would have been asleep in their berths at the time of the pre-dawn crash.
Water was being pumped out of flooded areas and it was unclear how long it would take to get into the crushed mid-right side of the ship once it was at the pier in Yokosuka, the statement said.
The USS Fitzgerald’s captain, Commander Bryce Benson, was airlifted early yesterday to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and was in stable condition with a head injury, the navy said.
Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated. It was unclear how many others may have been hurt.
The Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles (103.7km) southwest of Yokosuka, home to the 7th Fleet.
“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors,” US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift said.
The Japanese Coast Guard said it received an emergency call from the ACX Crystal reporting the collision at about 2:20am.
It was questioning crew members of the ACX Crystal, which is operated by the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen KK and was treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, coast guard official Masayuki Obara said.
The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tonnes and is 222m long, the coast guard said, much larger than the 8,315-tonne US Navy destroyer.
The container ship’s left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage.
Nippon Yusen said all of the ACX Crystal’s 20 Philippine crew members were safe.
Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, although Yutaka Saito said the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.
The names of the missing sailors were being withheld pending notification of their families.
US Navy personnel set up support and counseling services to help families as they sought updates on crew members.
“Just heard the sweetest voice and saw a wonderful face. He’s okay. Thank you all for the prayers,” Rita Schrimsher of Athens, Alabama, tweeted after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson, Jackson Schrimsher, via Facetime.
“It could have been worse, so we’re grateful,” she said by telephone.
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