The bodies of seven U.S. sailors from the USS Fitzgerald, a Navy destroyer, which collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship off Japan, were discovered Sunday morning, Japan time (Saturday in U.S.) in flooded berthing compartments of the destroyer ship, U.S. military official confirmed. The names of the seven sailors were released by the Navy on Sunday. The navy’s 7th Fleet said the dead bodies were found Sunday after the ship returned to its base in Japan.
“This loss is something we all feel,” Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet, told reporters at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan on Sunday.
“We have found a number of the remains … of our missing shipmates, and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those shipmates,” he said. The authorities released the names of the deceased sailors on Sunday:
– Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia
– Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego
– Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut
– Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
– Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
– Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland
– Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio
Admiral Aucoin’s comments regarding the sudden incident indicated that the number of deceased could have been more. “There was a big puncture, a big gash underneath the waterline” along the bottom of the ship,” he said. “The water flow into compartments that were berthing areas for 116 of the ship’s crew was tremendous,” he said, adding that “there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea.”
Aucoin also specified that the cabin of Fitzgerald’s captain, Commander Bryce Benson, had been severely damaged and destroyed due to the collision. “He’s lucky to be alive,” Aucoin added.
Benson, along with two other injured sailors, was flown off the damaged ship by helicopter after the incident and was being treated at the naval hospital at Yokosuka. Authorities also said that the three injured sailors were kept under observation and they were awake.
The USS Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, collided with the Philippine-flagged merchant ship named the ACX Crystal at around 2:30 a.m. Saturday Japan time (1:30 p.m. Friday EDT), at a distance of about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, officials confirmed. During the time when the vessels collided, the area sees heavy maritime traffic, including almost 400 to 500 vessels crossing it daily. The Fitzgerald had also left its base on Friday for routine operations.
Aucoin mentioned the crew had been fighting to keep the ship from drowning, calling their efforts 'heroic.' “The crew had to fight very hard to keep the ship afloat. They had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. So it was traumatic,” Aucoin said. “I can't tell you how proud I am of the crew for what they did to save the ship,” he said.
The Philippine-flagged container ship did not face severe damage to the destroyer ship that suffered severe damages to its starboard side. A 7th Fleet statement said the collision did “significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room.”
However, it was unclear how exactly the collision took place. Investigations have been underway. “Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” a spokesman for the 7th Fleet told Reuters.