Bodies of several sailors were found in the flooded compartments of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald, which collided with a container ship off the Japanese coast.
The 10,000-tonne warship was rammed by the 29,000-tonne Philippines-flagged cargo ship, the ACX Crystal, four times of its size early on Saturday, 17 June. The collision occurred in a busy waterway where the maritime traffic is high – between 400 and 500 crossing every day.
While the US Navy has not yet released the exact number of dead bodies recovered from the destroyer, the Japanese media said bodies of all the seven missing personnel have been found. It is still unclear whether the search operations are still on in the Pacific, where the incident took place about 96kms off the coast.
"Divers were able to access the space and found a number of bodies. The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time," said the US Navy's Seventh Fleet. Bodies of the sailors are being to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka for the identification process.
Including the warship's commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, three were medically evacuated. All of them are said to be in stable condition.
Soon after the impact, the destroyer's starboard side suffered extensive damages. Still, the vessel, an Aegis guided missile destroyer, managed to sail back to its Yokosuka base with the help of tug boats. It is unclear how the collision happened as authorities have pledged to investigate the matter.
The merchant vessel, carrying 1,080 containers, suffered only minor damages while none of its 20 crew members suffered any injuries. It later arrived at the Tokyo Bay following the incident. There was no specific maritime advisory or warning in the area when the incident and the weather conditions were clear.
Japan's coastguard is coordinating the emergency operations along with the US Navy and said they are looking into all possibilities to pinpoint the cause of the incident including "professional negligence".
The Fitzgerald, on a routine mission, was sailing in the Japanese waters as part of the US' efforts against North Korea's missile and nuclear threats.