THE US navy confirmed yesterday that seven of its sailors were dead after a cargo ship hit one of its destroyers off Japan on Saturday.
But questions remained over how the collision occurred on a clear night a few miles off the coast south of Yokosuka and Tokyo.
US Seventh Fleet commander Vice-Admiral Joseph Aucoin said that search-and-rescue efforts for the seven had ceased after divers found bodies in flooded compartments of the USS Fitzgerald.
The missing crew’s bodies were found as tugs towed the stricken ship back to the Yokosuka naval base.
Adm Aucoin said the Fitzgerald’s crew had had to fight to keep the ship afloat after the Philippines-flagged container ship ACX Crystal hit it amidships at about 2.20am on Saturday.
Most of the 300 crew were asleep in their berths at the time. Two sleeping areas and a machine room were severely damaged. Navy spokesman Lieutenant Paul Newell said the victims were either killed by the impact or drowned in consequent flooding.
The ship’s captain Commander Bryce Benson was airlifted to hospital in Yokosuka after dawn on Saturday with a serious head injury. “His cabin was destroyed, he is lucky to be alive,” said the admiral.
Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen said the 20 Filipino crew were safe, but Japanese coastguard official Masayuki Obara said they were being questioned over possible professional negligence.
The 29,000-ton merchantman apparently suffered only dents and scratches to its bow when it hit the 8,300-ton destroyer.
Since occupying the country in 1945, the US has kept a large military force in Japan — currently numbering 54,000 troops.