U.S. Navy sailors found after ship collision off coast of Japan

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy said Saturday that “a number” of missing sailors on the USS Fitzgerald were found in flooded berthing compartments.

After the guided-missile destroyer collided with a container ship on Friday, the Navy said seven sailors were missing.

“The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time. The names of the sailors will be released after all notifications are made,” the Navy’s 7th Fleet said in Saturday’s statement.

U.S. forces and Japanese authorities worked to figure out why the vessels struck each other.

The 10,000-ton guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal, a 29,000-ton container ship flagged in the Philippines, collided early Saturday local time, officials said.

The destroyer suffered severe damage to its starboard side, while the container ship sustained light damage.

“This has been a difficult day,” said Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the US 7th Fleet.

Forces overnight intensified their search for the missing sailors and tried to get a handle on the cause of a crash in a busy maritime zone crossed daily by 400 to 500 ships.

U.S. and Japanese crafts scoured the spot where the collision happened, about 56 nautical miles southwest Yokosuka and 12 miles off the Izu Peninsula.

Naval commanders praised the sailors for containing flooding caused by the collision, stabilizing the ship and sailing it back to port at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, where divers inspected its damage and developed a plan for repairs and inspection.

The ship had left the base on Friday for routine operations.

“The collision affected Fitzgerald’s forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room,” the 7th Fleet’s statement said.

Fitzgerald’s commander, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was evacuated by a Japanese naval helicopter while U.S. military copters evacuated two injured U.S. sailors.

All three were in stable condition at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, public affairs officer for U.S. Naval Forces Japan.

The Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer with a crew of approximately 330 sailors. The vessel is 505 feet long.

It completed $21 million in upgrades and repairs in February and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the service said.