The U.S. Navy says it has found the bodies of some of the sailors who went missing after the destroyer USS Fitzgerald was involved in a collision with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel operating off the coast of Japan.
The Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement Saturday night that search and rescue crews located the missing sailors in the flooded berthing compartments that were damaged during the collision.
The bodies were being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka for identification, the statement said.
The names of the sailors will be released after families are notified, the Navy said.
A total of seven sailors had been missing since Saturday’s crash off Japan’s coast. The statement didn't say how many had been located.
With the aid of tugboats, the badly damaged guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald returned to its home port Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo, about 16 hours after the collision.
Crew members from the destroyer USS Dewey stabilized the flooding on the Fitzgerald, and American sailors and the Japanese Coast Guard continued to search for the missing sailors. U.S. aircraft as well as Japanese helicopters were dispatched to help assist the search effort.
"This has been a difficult day," said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. "I am humbled by the bravery and tenacity of the Fitzgerald crew."
The collision badly damaged Fitzgerald's forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room.
Navy officials said that divers immediately began inspecting the damage and developing a plan for repairs and inspection of the impacted spaces upon the destroyer's return to Yokosuka.
In addition to the missing, at least three other sailors—including the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were injured and required medical evacuation, according to the Navy’s 7th Fleet. Benson was taken to the U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka. The other two sailors suffered lacerations and bruises. Others injured were treated aboard the ship, the Navy said.
About 200 sailors were aboard the ship at the time of the collision.
On Saturday, President Trump posted a message on Twitter to express his concern for the impacted sailors and thank Japan for its assistance.
Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance. https://t.co/d1l5ctjNyB— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 17, 2017
Nippon Yusen K.K., the Japanese company operating the merchant vessel, said the 20 member Filipino crew aboard the ship was safe. Aerial images aired on Japanese television appeared to show the bow on its left side was dented but the vessel did not appear to have any major damage.
It’s unclear what caused the collision, which occurred about 2:20 a.m. local time, between the destroyer and the container ship that is about four times its size. Conditions at the time were clear, though the area — about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka — is often busy with sea traffic.
Relatives of the sailors were awaiting word about their loved ones. Rita Schrimsher, of Athens, Ala., told the Associated Press that she was relieved after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson Jackson Schrimsher.
“It could have been worse so we’re grateful,” she said.
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