Friday 23 March 2018

Seven sailors missing after US destroyer collides with container ship

The damaged starboard side of the USS Fitzgerald (Kyodo News/AP)
The damaged starboard side of the USS Fitzgerald (Kyodo News/AP)
The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald launches a missile during a March training exercise to improve operational partnership between US and Japanese forces (US Navy/AP)

US and Japanese rescuers are searching for seven American sailors who went missing after their Navy destroyer collided with a container ship four times its size off the coast of Japan.

The USS Fitzgerald has returned to its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo following the collision with the Philippine-flagged container ship.

Officials are now questioning the freighter's crew at Tokyo's Oi wharf over the cause of the night-time crash.

After helping stabilise 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 incident.

Family members are frantically seeking news, appealing via social media for sailors aboard the ship to get in touch.

The US 7th Fleet said in a statement that the crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room.

Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard would have been asleep in their berths at the time of the pre-dawn crash.

Water is being pumped out of flooded areas and it is unclear how long it would take to get into the crushed mid-right side of the ship once it is at the pier in Yokosuka.

Vice Admiral Joseph P Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, said: "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, Commander Bryce Benson, was airlifted to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka after the collision and is in stable condition with a head injury, the Navy said.

Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated. It is unclear how many others may have been hurt.

The Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles south-west of Yokosuka, home to the 7th Fleet.

Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said: "Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors."

The Japanese coast guard said it received an emergency call from the container ship, the ACX Crystal, reporting the collision at around 6.20pm BST on Friday.

It was questioning crew members of the ACX Crystal, which is operated by the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen KK, and is treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.

US 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."

The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tonnes and is 730ft 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 are safe.

Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, though Yutaka Saito of the coast guard said the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.

The names of the missing sailors are being withheld pending notification of their families. US Navy personnel set up support and counselling services to help families as they sought updates on crew members.

Press Association

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