The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is towed into the US naval base in Yokosuka. Photo: Reuters/Toru Hanai

The bodies of a number of sailors who were missing after the US Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship were found in flooded compartments of the damaged ship, the US Seventh Fleet said on Sunday.

Japanese media said all seven of the sailors who had been reported missing were found dead.

The Seventh Fleet statement said the sailors were being transferred to a US naval hospital where they would be identified.

“The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time,” it said.

The Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, collided with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel more than three times its size some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka early on Saturday.

Three people were medically evacuated to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka after the collision, including the ship’s commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, who was reported to be in stable condition, the Navy said.

The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises, and others injured were being assessed aboard the ship.

The USS Fitzgerald sailed into port on Saturday evening, while search and rescue efforts by US and Japanese aircraft and surface vessels had been continuing for the seven missing sailors, the navy said.

A Philippine-flagged merchant vessel was damaged when it collided with a US Navy guided-missile destroyer south of Tokyo Bay on June 17. Photo: Kyodo via Reuters

Benson took command of the Fitzgerald on May 13. He had previously commanded a minesweeper based in Sasebo in western Japan.

It was unclear how the collision happened. “Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” a spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet said.

The US Navy said the collision happened at about 2.30am local time, while the Japanese Coast Guard said it took place at 1.30am.

The Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline, causing “significant damage” and flooding to two berthing spaces and other areas of the ship, the navy said.

Earlier, the Japanese Coast Guard said the US ship was experiencing some flooding but was not in danger of sinking, while the merchant vessel was able to sail under its own power.

An injured crew member of the USS Fitzgerald, damaged after colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is carried on a stretcher. Photo: Kyodo via Reuters

“The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline,” the US Navy said in a statement. It said the full extent of damage to the ship and injuries to its crew were still being determined. The Fitzgerald was operating under its own power, “although her propulsion is limited.”

The Fitzgerald arrived back at Yokosuka under its own power, traveling at 3 knots.

The USS Fitzgerald was damaged when it collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel south of Tokyo Bay on June 17, 2017. Photo: Kyodo via Reuters

Busy waterways

The waterways approaching Tokyo Bay are busy with commercial vessels sailing to and from Japan’s two biggest container ports in Tokyo and Yokohama.

The USS Dewey and two Navy tugboats had been dispatched to provide assistance, the Navy said.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK showed aerial footage of the destroyer, which had a large dent in its right, or starboard, side. Images broadcast by NHK showed it had been struck next to its Aegis radar arrays behind its vertical launch tubes.

The images showed what appeared to be significant damage on the deck and to part of the radar. NHK also showed footage of the container vessel and said it was heading towards Tokyo under its own power.

The Seventh fleet said the collision was with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal. At around 29,000 tons displacement it is about three times the size of the US warship.

Japan’s Coast Guard said none of the 20 crew members aboard the merchant vessel were injured.

Such incidents are rare. In May, the US Navy’s USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel, but both ships were able to operate under their own power.

The Seventh Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, thanked the Japanese Coast guard in a post on the fleet’s Facebook page, adding: “We are committed to ensuring the safe return of the ship to port in Yokosuka.”

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