The commander of the 7th Fleet has not confirmed how many bodies have been recovered from the USS Fitzgerald, the Navy destroyer that collided with a massive merchant vessel off the coast of Japan.
Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin would only say Sunday that a number of bodies have been found and the Navy is contacting the families of the dead sailors.
“So out of concern for the families and the notification process,” Aucoin said, “I will decline to state how many we have found at this time.”
Seven sailors are reported to have died in the collision between the Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal.
The USS Fitzgerald returned to port Saturday at Yokosuka, Japan.
The ACX Crystal sailed into Tokyo Saturday afternoon with minor damage to its bow. None of the 20-member crew on the Philippine-flagged container ship was reported injured.
Aucoin said the Navy will launch an investigation into the collision because “we owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the details regarding the conditions during the final moments, but hope that the investigation may shed some light on that matter,” he added.
The Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal, a ship about four times the size of the destroyer, collided early Saturday. The 29,000-ton Philippine ship is 222 meters long, while the 8,315-ton Navy destroyer is 154 meters long.
The U.S. Navy said the collision occurred about midship on the starboard side, damaging two sailor berthing stations, a machinery room and a radio room.
The destroyer sustained damage above and below the water line, and “experienced flooding in some spaces,” the U.S. Navy said.
“This was a severe emergency, but the ship’s crew was swift and responsive and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the crew for what they did to save the ship,” Aucoin said.
The U.S. Navy said divers were able to access a flooded berthing compartment on the Fitzgerald, where they found the bodies.
Three Fitzgerald sailors, including ship Commander Bryce Benson, were injured and evacuated to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka.
Benson was in stable condition with a head injury. The two other sailors suffered cuts and bruises.
It was unclear how many others may have been injured in the collision, which occurred about 100 kilometers southwest of Yokosuka at 2:30 a.m. Saturday local time, according to the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which operates in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
At that time, many of the 200 sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald would have been sleeping in their berths.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump said on Twitter: “Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance.”
Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance. https://t.co/d1l5ctjNyB— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 17, 2017
According to Jiji Press news agency, the ACX Crystal captain said his ship was “sailing in the same direction as the U.S. destroyer and then collided.”
Such collisions between two ships are rare.
Yukata Saito of the Japanese coast guard said conditions were clear at the time of the collision.
“The volume of ships is heavy in this area and there have been accidents before,” Saito told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.