The U.S. Navy said Monday that all seven sailors missing following a collision between its guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a Philippine container vessel on Saturday have been confirmed dead.
The Navy said in a statement Sunday that rescuers had gained access to spaces on the ship that were damaged during the collision and retrieved the bodies of a number of missing sailors, although did not specify exactly how many.
This was due to the Navy wanting to identify the bodies and let the next of kin know of the deaths before making a formal announcement, it said.
In contrast, Japanese media on Sunday reported ahead of the announcement by the U.S. 7th Fleet that all 7 bodies of the missing sailors were found aboard the destroyer in areas that had become flooded after the collision.
Three U.S. sailors also sustained injuries in the collision, including Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who is in a stable condition in hospital. Two other crew members were airlifted to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries following the collision, the Navy said.
According to the Japan Coast Guard, the collision occurred about 100 km southwest of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, and was first reported by the Philippine container vessel at around 2:25 a.m. local time on Saturday.
The 8,315 ton U.S. guided-missile destroyer, which suffered considerable damage to its right side in the collision, is part of the U.S. 7th Fleet and has returned to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, about 50 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.
The 29,060 ton Philippine ship, which was sailing towards Tokyo from Nagoya in central Japan with 1,080 containers, has since docked at a port in Tokyo with visible scrape marks from the collision on the left side of its bow.
The Aegis-equipped Fitzgerald, which suffered considerable damage to its right side in the collision, returned to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, about 50 km southwest of Tokyo, with the assistance of a tug boat.
Investigations by the U.S. Navy and the Japan Coast Guard are underway following the fatal collision in the pre-dawn hours south of Tokyo Bay.
Following the collision, the United States and the Philippines have also been in discussions regarding the accident and how to proceed.
Under the bilateral status of forces agreement between the United States and Japan, the former has primary jurisdiction regarding incidents involving members of its forces.
Crew members of the Philippine ACX Crystal container vessel have been questioned on suspicion of possible endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence.