Seven sailors died when the US, Navy destroyer Fitzgerald was in a collision with the Philippine-flag container ship ACX Crystal, 29,060gt, in the early hours of June 17 some 56 miles south-west of Yokosuka, Japan.
Three sailors were evacuated by helicopters to the US Naval Hospital at Yokosuka while other injured were treated on board the destroyer.
Among the three needing treatment ashore was Commander Bryce Benson, the destroyer’s commanding officer, who was transferred by a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter. The other two, who had lacerations and bruises, were flown to the hospital by a helicopter of the US Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12.
Giving details of the accident on June 18, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of US 7th Fleet, praised the destroyer’s crew for their damage control efforts which saved the ship. “This was not a small collision. The water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. They had to fight to keep her above the surface,” the Vice Admiral said.
“The Fitzgerald was hit amidships under the ship’s pilothouse on the starboard side and a large hole below the ship’s waterline opened the hull to the sea. “The ship suffered severe damage, rapidly flooding three large compartments that included one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew. The commanding officer’s cabin was also directly hit, trapping the CO inside.
“Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from spreading which could have caused the ship to founder or sink.” Shortly after the collision, the US Navy requested support from the Japanese Coast Guard in the search for the seven sailors who were initially reported as missing.
Coast Guard helicopters launched a search of the area and they were later joined by the Japanese Coast Guard patrol ships Izanami and Kano, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force destroyers Ohnami and Hamagiri and the multipurpose support ship Enshu and two helicopters, the US Navy destroyer Dewey, a US P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a Self Defense Force P-3 Orion aircraft.
The Vice Admiral said the crew navigated the destroyer into one of the busiest ports in the world with a magnetic compass and backup navigation equipment. One of two shafts were locked. Because of the damage control efforts, the ship was able to make her way back to Yokosuka at 1815 safely on her own power.
Once she was berthed, search and rescue teams boarded and gained access to the damaged spaces, they discovered the missing seven sailors dead in the flooded berthing compartments. Also, divers began inspecting the underwater damage.
The ACX Crystal, which was on charter to the Japanese line Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) and was bound from Nagoya to Yokohama, suffered bow damage and no-one on board was injured. She safely berthed at Yokohama later.