Mon, Jun 19, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Divers find missing US Navy sailors in damaged destroyer

SEVEN SAID DEAD:Several other crew were injured in the accident and had to be evacuated by air, including the guided missile destroyer’s captain

AFP, YOKOSUKA, Japan

A TV crew yesterday films the damage to the USS Fitzgerald at its mother port in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.

Photo: 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 caved in.

The US 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 harbor.

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

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,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“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,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement yesterday.

The 154m USS Fitzgerald — commissioned in 1995 — was pulled by a tugboat back to its base on Saturday, where divers searched damaged areas of the destroyer.

“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,” the US Navy said earlier yesterday.

Several other US crew members were injured in the accident and had to be evacuated by air to a hospital, including the vessel’s captain, Commander Bryce Benson, who is “undergoing treatment,” Aucoin said.

“He is lucky to be alive,” the fleet commander added, without elaborating.

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