19 Jun 2017

Missing US sailors found dead on flooded ship

4:53 pm on 19 June 2017

All seven sailors missing after the USS Fitzgerald's collision with a container ship have been found dead, the US Navy has confirmed.

Guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald off Japan's coast after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on 17 June, 2017.

Guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald off Japan's coast after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship. Photo: AFP

The sailors' bodies were found in flooded compartments of the destroyer, which came close to sinking when the collision at the weekend off Japan tore a gash under its waterline.

The USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged container ship collided south of Tokyo Bay early on Saturday. The cause of the collision in clear weather is not known.

Several of the crew were asleep when the crash - which flooded two berthing compartments, the radio room and the auxiliary machine room - happened.

Two of three injured crew members who were evacuated from the ship by helicopter, including the ship's commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, were released from the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, the US Navy's Seventh Fleet said on its Facebook page on Monday.

The last sailor remained in hospital and no details were given about his condition.

Multiple US and Japanese investigations are under way into how a ship as large as the container could collide with the smaller warship in clear weather.

Shipping data shows the ACX Crystal, chartered by Japan's Nippon Yusen KK, made a complete u-turn between 12.58am and 2.46am local time.

US Seventh Fleet commander Joseph Aucoin, was asked on Sunday if damage on the starboard side indicated the US ship could have been at fault, but he declined to speculate on the cause of the collision. Maritime rules suggest vessels are supposed to give way to ships on their starboard.

Japanese authorities were looking into the possibility of "endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence", Japanese media reported, but it was not clear whether that might apply to either or both of the vessels.

The ship is salvageable, Vice Admiral Aucoin said, but repairs will likely take months.

"Hopefully less than a year. You will see the USS Fitzgerald back," he said.

This incident was the greatest loss of life on a US Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen's Aden harbour in 2000, when 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured.

- Reuters