U.S. sailors’ bodies found in USS Fitzgerald after freighter collision off Yokosuka

The search for seven missing U.S. sailors was called off Sunday after bodies were found aboard the destroyer that collided with a container vessel Saturday, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said.

At a news conference at the Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin didn’t specify the number of bodies found and said the names of the deceased would be withheld until their families are notified.

The grim information came a day after the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged, Japanese-charted container ship about 100 km southwest of Yokosuka.

The Fitzgerald, which has the state-of-the-art Aegis missile-defense system, was believed to have been deployed to monitor missiles being tested by North Korea.

“We have found the remains of a number of our missing” sailors, Aucoin said.

As search crews gained access to damaged sections, several bodies were located in flooded berthing compartments, the 7th Fleet said in a statement.

Their remains were transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Aucoin said.

Despite the extensive damage to the Fitzgerald’s right side, the destroyer managed to reach Yokosuka on its own and was anchored there Sunday afternoon.

Reporters and photographers were given an opportunity to take photos and videos of the ship. A large dent was seen on the right side, next to its Aegis radar arrays and behind its vertical launch tubes.

Asked about the cause of the fatal collision, Aucoin declined to speculate, saying a full investigation would be soon underway.

“As to how much warning they had? I don’t know. That’s going to be found out during investigations,” Aucoin said, adding that the U.S. Navy would fully cooperate with Japanese authorities.

Investigators must determine how a sophisticated U.S. warship collided with a container ship four times its size. Raising even more questions, tracking data sent from the cargo vessel, the ACX Crystal, showed that it had reversed course about 25 minutes before the accident, according to the website MarineTraffic.com.

Aucoin said he was proud of the crew for its quick response to the collision.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the crew for what they did to save the ship,” he said.

He said that the Fitzgerald will not be decommissioned, although it may take months before the destroyer is fully repaired and put back into operation.

U.S. President Donald Trump also offered his condolences to the families and thanked Tokyo for its help. Japan had sent Maritime Self-Defense Force and Japan Coast Guard vessels and aircraft to help find the missing sailors.

“Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance.”

In a letter to Trump, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed that his government “would not hesitate to continue offering support to the United States in these difficult times.”

The collision, which took place at 2:24 a.m. Saturday, damaged three large compartments in the USS Fitzgerald, including an area that houses 116 crew members.

The damage caused a large amount of flooding inside the 8,900-ton Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

“Right near the pilot house there was a big puncture (and) a big gash underneath the waterline,” he said.

The collision also destroyed the cabin of the ship’s commander, he added.

“He is lucky to be alive,” Aucoin said.

According to shipping giant Nippon Yusen K.K., which charted the 29,060 ton cargo ship, none of its 20 crew members were injured.

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