TOKYO — The bodies of several missing American sailors were found in the flooded berthing compartments of the damaged naval destroyer Fitzgerald on Sunday, a day after it was rammed by a container shift four times its size off the Japanese coast, the Navy said in a statement and a Twitter post.
The Navy’s statement did not say how many of the seven missing sailors were found, or if any of them were found alive, or if a search was continuing for some of the missing in the Pacific around the area where the accident took place, some 60 miles off the coast.
Search crews had to work their way through the extensive damage to the Fitzgerald’s starboard side before they found the sailors, the Navy said.
They were taken to a naval hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. The sailors’ names would not be released until their families could be notified, the Navy said.
The collision with the Philippines-registered cargo ship, the ACX Crystal, occurred at 2:30 a.m. local time on Saturday, at a time when most of the crew of the Fitzgerald would have been asleep. After the accident, the ship was escorted back to its base, in Yokosuka, Japan, where the search took place.
At the ship’s base, and elsewhere, relatives anxiously awaited news.
“Please we need to know more info,” a woman named Mireya Alvarez posted on the Facebook page of the United States 7th Fleet on Saturday. “Two officers came to my mother’s home,” she wrote, to “tell her that my brother is one of the missing.”
The Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, and two other crew members were injured but conscious, the Navy said. An official with the Japanese Coast Guard, which is aiding the rescue effort, said one of the injured sailors sustained a head injury and was unable to walk.
The shipping lane where the collision occurred is a congested one, with about 400 vessels passing through each day, the Japanese Coast Guard said. Three major accidents have been reported in the area in the last five years, including at least one fatality, said Masayuki Obara, a Coast Guard official.
Mr. Obara said the Coast Guard was interviewing the crew of the Crystal to determine, among other things, whether negligent piloting by either side contributed to the collision.
No injuries were reported on the Crystal, which was traveling up the Japanese coast.
The Fitzgerald was about 64 miles south of Yokosuka when the Crystal rammed nose-first into the destroyer’s starboard, or right, side, on a clear night.
Photographs showed the side of the Fitzgerald caved in about a third of the way back. The Navy said the collision inflicted significant damage to the destroyer above and below the water line, flooding berths, a machinery area and the radio room. The Crystal, at 730 feet in length, is more than 200 feet longer than the Fitzgerald and, with its load of shipping containers, would weigh several times as much.
The cause of the collision was unclear. Under international maritime rules, a vessel is supposed to give way to another one on its starboard side, and the damage indicates that the Crystal was to the Fitzgerald’s starboard, and therefore had the right of way.
But maritime experts cautioned that many other factors could have led to a crash. Marine traffic records show the Crystal made a series of sharp turns about 25 minutes before the collision, which in crowded seas could cause a cascade of maneuvers by other vessels.
“Those are very high-traffic-density areas near coastal waters,” said Bill Doherty, a ship safety investigator and auditor with a long career of service on naval warships. “When a big ship like that makes a drastic change in a high traffic area, that has to be explained.”
Sean P. Tortora, a veteran merchant marine captain and consultant who said he had sailed through the area of the collision many times, said that evidence suggested the Fitzgerald was at fault.
Captain Tortora described the collision as a “T-bone” in which the bow of the Crystal hit the starboard side of the Fitzgerald. “From what I’ve seen, the Fitzgerald should have given way and passed to the stern of the container ship,” he said.
He added that a common cause of collisions, at sea or on the simulators used for training, is a misjudgment of distance and speed on the part of a captain trying to cross in front of another vessel. “They think they can make it and they make a run for it,” Captain Tortora said.
Another possibility, Mr. Doherty said, is that one or both vessels were acting “in extremis,” or ahead of what appears to be an imminent collision. “At that point, both vessels are burdened, and then both vessels, by law, are required to immediately take the best action to aid to avert a collision,” he said.
Asked about Captain Tortora’s comments, a Navy spokesman, Capt. Charles W. Brown, said it was premature to address the cause of the collision.
“At this point our foremost concern is the search for the missing sailors and the well-being of the crew,” he said.
A former director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s office of marine safety, Marjorie Murtagh Cooke, said it could take a year or more to determine what happened.
“We don’t know what information was available to each of these vessels at the time,” Ms. Cooke said. “Was all of their equipment working? Was one vessel at anchor and the other moving? There are just so many facts that we don’t have yet.”
The Fitzgerald had recently participated in military exercises with two American aircraft carriers and ships from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, as that country’s navy is known.
“Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families,” President Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance.”
The Crystal, chartered by Nippon Yusen, a Japanese shipping company, had about 20 Filipino crew members on board, the company said in a statement. The cargo ship was heading toward Tokyo at the time of the collision, after making a stop on Friday at Nagoya, Japan.
Marc Tuell, who served as a personnel specialist on the Fitzgerald from 2010 to 2013, found it disturbing to watch the video of the damaged ship being towed to port in Japan.
“It’s pretty heart-wrenching, having walked those decks for three years,” Mr. Tuell said. He retired from the Navy and lives in Deltona, Fla. “Heaven forbid that those seven souls are lost.”
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