Sleeping sailors on U.S. destroyer had little time to react after collision near Japan

by WorldTribune Staff, June 18, 2017

The bodies of seven U.S. sailors were recovered after the USS Fitzgerald sustained significant damage in a collision with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship on Saturday around 2:20 a.m. in the sea off Japan, reports said.

The seven sailors didn’t make it out of the berthing area, the Navy said. Their bodies were recovered by divers after the ship crawled to the port of Yokosuka.

Damaged part of USS Fitzgerald is seen at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo on June 18. / AP

“The water inflow was tremendous,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, head of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said in a press briefing on June 18. “There wasn’t a lot of time” for sailors to react.

Aucoin said that much of the crew of about 300 was asleep when the collision occurred, and that one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a sympathy message to U.S. President Donald Trump after the fatal collision

Abe said in his message to Trump: “We are struck by deep sorrow,” expressing condolences and sympathy “straight from my heart” to the victims and the injured.

Abe wrote, “I express my heartfelt solidarity to America at this difficult time,” praising U.S. servicemen in Japan under the allies’ bilateral security pact.

Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell said the sailors might have been killed by the impact of the collision or drowned in the flooding.

Aucoin described the damage and flooding as extensive, including a big puncture under the ship’s waterline, and said the crew had to fight to keep the destroyer afloat.

“The damage was significant. This was not a small collision,” he said.

“You can’t see most of the damage — the damage is mostly underneath the waterline, and it’s a large gash near the keel of the ship,” he said. “So the water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic.”

The USS Fitzgerald’s captain, Bryce Benson, escaped from his cabin. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital where he was receiving emergency treatment on June 18 before being questioned.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Aucoin said.

Both Japan and the U.S. are launching investigations, and each side declined to speculate about possible blame.

The 20 Filipino crew members of the ACX Crystal, all of whom were unharmed, have been questioned, a spokesman for the Japan Coast Guard said.


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