A Navy destroyer collided with a container ship – four times its size – off the Japanese coast. Now, the U.S. and Japanese are desperately searching for seven American sailors who went missing after the collision.
The USS Fitzgerald was back at its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo by sunset Saturday, 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 American 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 from the ship.
The U.S. 7th Fleet released a statement that the crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room, and a radio room. At the time of the crash, most of the 200+ sailors were asleep in their berths.
The statement continued, saying water was being pumped out of the flooded areas and it was unclear at this time how long it would take to get into the crushed mid-right side of the ship.
Commander of the 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin commented on the crash:
“This has been a difficult day. 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.”
The USS Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was among those injured. He was airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and is now in stable condition with a head injury.
Two other crew members were injured with cuts and bruises. They were also evacuated.
As of right now, it’s unknown if more were injured.
The Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles (103 kilometers) 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,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The Japanese coast guard said it received an emergency call from the container ship, the ACX Crystal, reporting the collision at around 2:20 a.m. (1720 GMT Friday). It was questioning crew members of the ACX Crystal, which is operated by the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., and was treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.
The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 222 meters (730 feet) long, the coast guard said, much larger than the 8,315-ton 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-member Filipino crew members were safe.
Conditions were clear at the time of the collision. But Yutaka Saito coast is a particular crowded area.
The names of the missing sailors are being withheld until their families are notified.