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Seven American Sailors Missing After USS Fitzgerald Collision With Container Ship (UPDATE: Remains of Missing Sailors Found)

Seven American Sailors Missing After USS Fitzgerald Collision With Container Ship (UPDATE: Remains of Missing Sailors Found)

Names of the missing sailors have not yet been released pending notification of their families

https://twitter.com/W7VOA/status/875830598283251712

The Navy destroyer the USS Fitzgerald collided with a much larger container ship off the coast of Japan.  Seven U. S. sailors are missing, and three sailors were medically evacuated due to injuries sustained in the collision.

Reuters reports:

Search and rescue efforts went on after dark for seven U.S. sailors missing after the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship more than three times its size off eastern Japan early on Saturday.

The Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, collided with the merchant vessel some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, the Navy said.

Three aboard the destroyer had been medically evacuated to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, including the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was reported to be in stable condition, the Navy said. The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises, while other injured were being assessed aboard the ship, it said.

The USS Fitzgerald sailed into port on Saturday evening but search and rescue efforts by U.S. and Japanese aircraft and surface vessels were continuing for the seven missing sailors, the Navy said. Their names are being withheld until the families have been notified, it added.

It is unclear how the collision happened or the true extent of the damage, though the following images were released via a Japanese news outlet.

Reuters continues:

It was unclear how the collision happened. “Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet said.

The U.S. Navy said the collision happened at about 2:30 a.m. local time (1730 GMT), while the Japanese Coast Guard said it took place at 1:30 a.m. local time.

The Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline, causing “significant damage” and flooding to two berthing spaces and other areas of the ship, the Navy said.

The flooding was later stabilized, but it was uncertain how long it would take to gain access to those spaces once the ship docked, to continue the search for the missing, it said.

Back in Yokosuka, divers will inspect the damage and develop a plan for repairs, the Navy said.

The Commander of the U. S. 7th Fleet says “this has been a difficult day” and that the missing sailors may be trapped in the damaged portion of the ship.

CNN reports:

The destroyer suffered severe damage to its starboard side, while the container ship sustained light damage.

“This has been a difficult day,” Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the US 7th Fleet, said.

. . . . The missing sailors could be trapped in a damaged section of the destroyer, a statement from the 7th Fleet suggested.

“It remains uncertain how long it will take to gain access to the spaces once the ship is pier side … to methodically continue the search for the missing,” the statement said.

. . . . A Navy official said the point of impact was where crucial communications equipment was located, knocking out ship-to-shore and other forms of communication on the ship and forcing the crew to revert to the use of satellite phones.

President Trump sent his thoughts and prayers to the sailors and their families and thanked the Japanese for their assistance.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/876079184417882116

UPDATE:

The United States Navy reports that “a number” of USS Fitzgerald sailors’ remains have been found and are being transported to a nearby naval hospital where they will be identified.

A number of Sailors’ remains that were missing from the collision between USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and a merchant ship have been found.

As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing Sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments. They are currently being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified.

The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time. The names of the Sailors will be released after all notifications are made.

Stars and Stripes has a bit more:

An unknown number of sailors missing after a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a merchant vessel were found dead in a damaged compartment, Navy officials said Sunday.

A tweet from Commander Naval Forces Japan stated that “Divers were able to access the space and found a number of sailors. None alive. MTF. We will ID sailors after [next-of-kin] notification.”

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that all seven sailors have been confirmed dead.

On Twitter, there is a great outpouring of grief, of support for the deceased sailors’ families, and of gratitude for these sailors’ service to our country.

https://twitter.com/R_Abbott53/status/876268699220684800

https://twitter.com/All4pennst/status/876256894897324033

https://twitter.com/ScottyGal2/status/876268292385775622

https://twitter.com/RoKeT_gal/status/876270035987312644

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Comments

Henry Hawkins | June 17, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Any Navy vets around? I’m ignorant of this stuff – how do two ships of this size run into each other in open water?

    mariner in reply to Henry Hawkins. | June 17, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    I am both a Navy vet and a merchant mariner officer, and I have no idea how this happened.

    When I was on active duty, I maneuvered on many occasions to stay clear of another ship even when my ship had the right of way.

    If there is no collision there’s no need for investigation.

    I suspect the track of the merchant ship is being misinterpreted; there seems to be confusion about the time of the collision as its been reported at two different times.

Maybe they weren’t using their radar.

Saw the track of the Container ship and it doubled back away from the harbor it was headed for hit the destroyer in the side; did a u turn and headed to its destination port. Looks like the Philippine ship was hunting to something; something the Captain did not even know he was looking for but some junior helmsman on the 2:00 AM ship knew right where to find. Based on the track it looks like the US ship was ambushed. After all you can’t sink one of your allies merchant vessels just because it’s getting close. we will find out more I am sure

    Mannie in reply to dmandman. | June 18, 2017 at 9:08 am

    The container ship’s plot, without also showing the Fitzgerald’s plot, is essentially meaningless. The details will come out in the Court of Inquiry. There should be two plots on the Fitzgerald, one on the navigator’s chart table, and one in CIC.

Heading should really read Container ship collides with USS Fitzgerald.

The track of the container ship shows some really weird maneuvering, but so far there is no publication showing the paths that both ships followed.
The Fitzgerald was struck from behind and to the starboard (right side), and it appears that the bow of the much larger ship rode up over the hull of the destroyer, which appears to be actually “bent” in some views. Damage may not be repairable.
Navy warships are always manned by 2-3 watchstanders on the bridge, plus additional in the CIC (combat information center), that has multiple radar displays, and plots positions of all nearby targets continually. Commercial ships are usually manned by a single person on the bridge at this time of night, or may even be on autopilot in the open ocean. Coming from the starboard side, the cargo ship would have the right-of-way and should have maintained a steady course and speed, the destroyer being obliged to maneuver to avoid it.
It’s early to speculate, but one explanation could be that the person maneuvering the Philippine ship made a purposeful attack on the destroyer, out of some form of political animosity.
The investigation could get quite interesting, if so.

    rabid wombat in reply to Topnife. | June 17, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Topknife

    “Coming from the starboard side, the cargo ship would have the right-of-way and should have maintained a steady course and speed, the destroyer being obliged to maneuver to avoid it.”

    I read it the other way, the US Ship had right of way.

    “Rule 13 – Overtaking Return to the top of the page

    (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules 4-18, any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

    (b) A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with a another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam, that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she would be able to see only the sternlight of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.

    (c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.

    (d) Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.”

    https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent#rule13

    I certainly stand to be corrected.

    I absolutely agree that the cargo ship was on a wild path – see in the following link:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4613906/Search-missing-Navy-sailors-ships-collide.html

    Best

      Topnife in reply to rabid wombat. | June 17, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      I guess this might depend on who was overtaking whom, and will eventually be determined by analysis of the courses and positions of both vessels. The track of the cargo ship does still seem pretty weird and thus far, inexplicable.
      Knowing how the Navy bridge operates, the constant plotting of positions with a precision far greater than commercial vessels, and the tendency to give all contacts lots of room, the notion that the cargo ship may have actively sought a collision is at least a plausible explanation, even if it requires a malignant intent.

    rabid wombat in reply to Topnife. | June 17, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Regardless, the Commander’s career is over….

    Dave in reply to Topnife. | June 17, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    The ship’s deck log will have it all in writing. Terrible tragedy on the mid-watch. I can’t imagine why the collision happened if the Destroyer’s bridge and CIC watch teams were on the ball.

      Topnife in reply to Dave. | June 17, 2017 at 10:05 pm

      That was my first thought, assuming that this was an “accident”. However, the strange track of the cargo ship at least raises the notion that it was deliberately maneuvered to a collision. The Wikipedia entry for the Fitzgerald already states that the cargo ship made an “unexplained U turn”, but we don’t know courses, speeds or positions so far. That might have duped and baffled the destroyer’s watchstanders for long enough that a collision was unavoidable.
      It will all depend on the investigation, but the ship looks like it may be irretrievably bent out of shape, and the Navy may find it hard to forgive losing a $billion dollar ship.

It’s a little early to speculate on what happened. The only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that CDR Benson can kiss any future promotions goodbye. He’ll never command another ship in the USN.

In 1968, I was serving aboard an LPH (helicopter carrier/amphibious assault ship) that was struck by another ship in our ready group. This was due to a communications problem during night maneuvering. Fortunately, no one on either ship was injured,

The actions and procedural errors that led to the collision are too complex to cover here, but the C.O. of the ship that struck ours (a full captain) was deemed to be at fault, along with his OOD (Officer of the Deck). Both were relieved and the C.O. “retired” shortly thereafter.

Unless there is compelling evidence that CDR Benson did everything he could to avoid this collision, he is likely to end up permanently on the beach.

    rabidfox in reply to navyvet. | June 17, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Was CDR Benson even on the deck at the time? Ship captains have to sleep, eat, and use the head.

      rabid wombat in reply to rabidfox. | June 17, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      Rabid,

      It does not matter. The Captian is responsible for all that occurs, or fails to occur. It is the ultimate position of responsibility. If it occured under his watch – it is his. If it fails through a subordinate – there was a training or control problem.

      Separately, it is being reported the seven crew have been found in a flooded compartment.

      Rabid

        rabid wombat in reply to rabid wombat. | June 17, 2017 at 11:04 pm

        http://m.jpost.com/app/article/497146

        YOKOSUKA, Japan – The bodies of a number of sailors who were missing after the US Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship were found in flooded compartments of the damaged ship, the US Seventh Fleet said in a statement on Sunday.

        Japanese media said all seven of the sailors who had been reported missing were found dead.

        The Seventh Fleet statement said the sailors were being transferred to a US naval hospital where they would be identified.

        “The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time,” it said.

        The Fitzgerald, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, collided with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel more than three times its size some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka early on Saturday.

        Three people were medically evacuated to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka after the collision, including the ship’s commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, who was reported to be in stable condition, the Navy said.

        The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises and others injured were being assessed aboard the ship.

        The USS Fitzgerald sailed into port on Saturday evening but search and rescue efforts by US and Japanese aircraft and surface vessels had been continuing for the seven missing sailors, the Navy said.

        Benson took command of the Fitzgerald on May 13. He had previously commanded a minesweeper based in Sasebo in western Japan.

        It was unclear how the collision happened. “Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed,” a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet said.

        The US Navy said the collision happened at about 2:30 a.m. local time (1730 GMT Friday), while the Japanese Coast Guard said it took place at 1:30 a.m. local time.

        The Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline, causing “significant damage” and flooding to two berthing spaces and other areas of the ship, the Navy said.

      Arminius in reply to rabidfox. | June 18, 2017 at 11:40 pm

      It appears that CDR Benson was asleep in his cabin when the cargo ship T-boned his destroyer. According to reports his cabin was crushed and he was severely injured. He was medevaced to Yokosuka and 7th Fleet, VADM Aucoin, says he’s lucky to be alive.

      I am sure that will be some consolation to him because his career is over. As Rabid Wombat has already observed, it doesn’t matter that he wasn’t personally on the bridge. Benson is the skipper and as such he’s responsible for everything that happens on his ship. If the bridge watch or anybody else for that matter made a mistake, it’s the CO’s fault for not ensuring they were properly trained.

      Adding to the hell of it all, Benson only took command of the Fitzgerald last month. So if there was any deficiency in the watchstanders’ training it is certainly the fault of his predecessor. Benson didn’t pick up on it, though. So it’s on him; this collision happened on his watch. It’s now his fault.

      And there are seven fatalities. I was assigned to Commander Naval Forces Japan, co-located with SUBGRU-7, when the attack submarine USS San Francisco collided with an uncharted sea mount during a transit from Guam. One sailor, one sailor too many, died of his injuries. The skipper, CDR Mooney, was relieved. But even the admiral who relieved him agreed he was a good guy who didn’t actually do anything wrong, which is why after being relieved he was allowed to stay in long enough to retire. Nothing wrong, of course, except being in charge when undersea terrain put a big hole in a USN ship and a sailor got killed because he wasn’t clairvoyant. He had all the charts he was supposed to have and nobody knew that sea mount was there. We pay lots of money for hydrographic survey ships to chart the bottom and they couldn’t find a freaking undersea mountain, but CDR Mooney and the San Francisco accidentally did so Mooney paid the price.

      It shouldn’t be this way. Later five star Admiral, Fleet Admiral Nimitz, ran his destroyer the USS Decatur aground as an Ensign (Imagine, Ensigns in command) off the the Philippines in 1907. He was tried and convicted at court martial of hazarding his vessel. But he was retained because he argued that a destroyer captain had to be willing to hazard his vessel or he was useless.

      Nimitz will probably be the last USN admiral who continued his career after being convicted of such a charge.

      And I’m sure he got a smile during a conversation with USMC General Vandergrift during one of his visits to Guadalcanal when he told the General that they’d be rewriting naval regulations following the war so start thinking of inputs. Vandergrift told Nimitz he could give him some inputs right now. Stop relieving aggressive commanders for touching bottom.

      Let’s be honest. The Arleigh Burke class aren’t destroyers. They’re capital ships. Let’s treat them as such. But if we are going to insist they are destroyers, let’s use them as destroyers. As Nimitz argued, successfully, at his court martial it’s the job of a destroyer skipper to hazard his vessel.

A Philippine ship hit one of ours? Anybody else thinking Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, or MNLF?

inspectorudy | June 18, 2017 at 8:17 am

As a boater my whole life and a pilot my professional career, I have used radar in both and simply cannot understand what happened. I have read that fog was an issue but radar is so good now that fog is not an issue. That plus all ships use transponders just like aircraft do for ships that have faulty radar. To me which ship had the right of way is irrelevant because security of both ships comes first. If it was 2:00 AM as written then there would be a minimum crew on watch but the CIC would be fully manned and there should have been several on deck watchmen. They wouldn’t be of much use if there was fog however. The container ship is so unmaneuverable that to think it “Attacked” the US ship is silly. It takes thousands of yards for one of these things to turn around and it would have to be at a crawl to do so. I believe the container ship and the US ship will both be found at fault and as we all know it is usually several little things that add up to a big one. God bless those who perished.

    navyvet in reply to inspectorudy. | June 18, 2017 at 10:24 am

    Just as with automobiles, there are certain “rules of the road” for navigating at sea. I was not a navigator, so I can’t cite chapter and verse, but under the conditions as I understand them it was the container ship’s duty to avoid contact.

    That said, there comes a point when the skipper of a 30+ knot destroyer should take evasive action when a collision appears imminent. Why CDR Benson did not take such action will be one of the points of focus of the investigation that’s already underway. Having been on the sidelines during such an investigation, I can tell you the Navy will examine every action or inaction with a microscope.

      Topnife in reply to navyvet. | June 18, 2017 at 11:46 am

      It’s difficult to know or understand if either of these ships was maneuvering prior to the collision. One report is that the Captain’s cabin was severely damaged, and the Captain was injured. It’s strange that he would not have been awakened prior to the collision, if the watch realized that a collision was possible.
      The collision occurred on the starboard side of the destroyer. The cargo ship, if it was holding a steady course, would have had the right-of-way, either by position or if the destroyer was overtaking.
      The simplest explanation is that the destroyer tried to cross in front of the cargo ship, and didn’t make it. The damage to the cargo ship was on the port bow, which supports that mechanism.
      How they could have decided to do that is baffling. I hate to think that those conning the destroyer would have been that stupid, which falls on the OOD, if the Captain was still asleep.
      So now I’m desperately awaiting a nicer explanation, like some form of attack.
      However, the simplest explanation is usually correct.

Reading reports that the cargo ship had turned off its transponder and lights. If so, that would add to the evidence of a deliberate ramming.

Paul In Sweden | June 18, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Flapping my tongue only to mention that I am holding my tongue until there is more information on this matter. I know I am pissed off about this but I just do not know who and where to focus my anger.

I was wondering how the merchant ship punctured the Navy ship so far below the waterline, then I remembered: Most large commercial ships have this huge tear-shaped bulb installed just below their waterline that cuts down on drag. I assume this “bulb” is responsible for the piercing of the hull.

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