YOKOSUKA, Japan (CBSNewYork/AP) — The U.S. Navy on Sunday called off the search for seven sailors who went missing after their destroyer collided with a container ship off the Japanese coast was called off after several bodies were found Sunday in the ship’s flooded compartments, including sleeping quarters.
Navy divers found “a number of” bodies in the USS Fitzgerald, a day after the destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship four times its size, said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Aucoin, speaking at a news conference at the 7th Fleet’s home base in Yokosuka, Japan, wouldn’t say how many bodies were recovered, pending notification of next of kin.
Aucoin said that much of the crew of about 300 was asleep when the collision happened at 2:20 a.m. Saturday off the Japanese coast – 56 miles south of Tokyo. He said that one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged.
Aucoin said the destroyer — which returned to Yokosuka on Saturday evening with the help of tug boats — was hit on the side and there was a significant impact.
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, survivors thought they were under attack.
“So this was a severe emergency,” Aucoin said. “The ship’s crew was swift and responsive, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the crew for what they did to save this ship.”
It is still unclear what caused the collision, which happened when sea traffic on the normally busy waterway was relatively clear.
“The damage was significant. This was not a small collision,” Aucoin said. “It was right near the pilot’s house and there’s a big puncture, a big gash underneath the waterline.”
The damage to the destroyer suggests that the container ship, the ACX Crystal, might have slammed into it at a significant speed. This has raised questions as to whether there was proper communication between the two vessels, particularly given how busy the waters in the area are.
Divers found the bodies in the flooded compartments.
“The water flow was tremendous. And so, there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were opened to the sea,” Aucoin said. “It was traumatic. As to how much warning they had, I don’t know, that is what they are going to found out during the investigation. But it was a significant impact that the crew had to fight very hard to keep the ship afloat.”
The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 730 feet long, much larger than the 8,315-ton destroyer. The container ship’s left bow was dented and scraped, and it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage when it was docked in the Tokyo bay late Saturday.
But on Sunday, a group of accident investigators from the Japanese transport ministry found damage to the container ship that had been hidden under the waterline when it arrived in Tokyo the previous night. Footage from Japanese broadcaster NHK showed a sharp horizontal cut across the bow area, which looked like a shark’s mouth. Many scratches were also seen in the frontal area.
The container ship was seen making a U-turn before the collision on some ship trackers, a move that has raised questions about what happened.
All of the ACX Crystal’s 20-member Filipino crew were safe, according to Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., which operates the ship.
The Japanese coast guard questioned crew members of the ACX Crystal, and is treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a sympathy message to President Donald Trump on Sunday. “We are struck by deep sorrow,” Abe said in the message.
“I express my heartfelt solidarity to America at this difficult time,” he said, praising U.S. servicemen in Japan under the allies’ bilateral security pact.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)