US Navy Destroyer Collides With Merchant Ship Near Japan, Sailors Missing

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Washington, DC – The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel in the Philippine Sea at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time, June 17, while operating about 64 miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, according to US 7th Fleet news releases.

The Fitzgerald, which collided with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal, was able to return to its home port at Yokosuka under its own power aided by tug boats about 16 hours after the collision, according to an updated release.

Three Sailors Hospitalized, Seven Missing

Three sailors required medical evacuation from the damaged Fitzgerald, according to a release. One patient is Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, who’s reportedly in stable condition. Benson and the two other injured sailors were transferred to US Naval Hospital Yokosuka. Other injured sailors are being assessed.

Seven sailors are unaccounted for and the Japanese Coast Guard continues to search for them, a release said.

Navy Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the 7th Fleet’s commander, and many family members were on the pier when the stricken Fitzgerald arrived in Yokosuka, according to a release.

“This has been a difficult day,” Aucoin said in a release. “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.”

“I want to highlight the extraordinary courage of the Fitzgerald sailors who contained the flooding, stabilized the ship and sailed her back to Yokosuka despite the exceptionally trying circumstances,” Navy Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Task Force 70, said in a release.

Japanese Vessels, Aircraft Provide Assistance

Shortly after the collision the US made a request for support from the Japanese Coast Guard, which was the first on scene and continues to be the lead for search-and-rescue efforts, according to a release.

Several US Navy aircraft, as well as Japanese Coast Guard and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopters, ships and aircraft were deployed to render assistance to the Fitzgerald, a release said.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships JS Ohnami, JS Hamagiri and JS Enshu were sent to join the JCG ships Izanami and Kano, according to a release. The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey served as an escort for the Fitzgerald and has also returned to Yokosuka.

Search for Missing Sailors Continues

A US P-8 Poseidon aircraft is working in concert with two Japanese military helicopters and a Japanese P-3 Orion aircraft to search the area, according to a release. Names of the missing sailors are being withheld until the families have been notified.

170601-N-RM689-190 SEA OF JAPAN (June 1, 2017) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) sails in formation during a bilateral exercise between USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). The Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Groups conduct maritime training operations with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, JS Hyuga (DDH 181) and JS Ashigara (DDG178). JMSDF and U.S. Navy forces routinely train together to improve interoperability and readiness to provide stability and security for the Indo-Asia Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams/Released)
The US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, pictured here sailing in formation during a bilateral exercise in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017 Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams

The collision affected the Fitzgerald’s forward starboard, or right, side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space and the radio room, which damage control teams quickly began dewatering, according to a release.

Though the Fitzgerald is back in Yokosuka, it remains uncertain as to how long it will take to gain access to the spaces in order to methodically continue the search for the missing, a release said.

Once the ship arrived in Yokosuka, divers began inspecting the damage and developing a plan for repairs and inspection of the spaces, a release said.

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