By Lars Nicolaysen, dpa
TOKYO — Seven U.S. sailors were missing and several injured on Saturday after their destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Japan, the U.S. Seventh Fleet said.
The USS Fitzgerald’s commanding officer Bryce Benson was among those injured in the collision, which took place at around 2:30 am (1730 GMT Friday) about 56 nautical miles south-west of Yokosuka.
He was evacuated by helicopter and was in a stable condition at a U.S. navy hospital in Yokosuka, where the Seventh Fleet is based, the navy said.
Two other sailors were also evacuated and treated for lacerations and bruises, while crew were still assessing the other injured.
The collision had resulted in some flooding and damage to the ship’s starboard side, the navy said in an earlier statement.
The U.S. Seventh Fleet later wrote on Twitter: “Flooding has been stabilized and Sailors from USS Dewey are assisting in damage control efforts.”
Japanese media said the navy vessel was heading back to Yokosuka.
The 20-man crew on board the ACX Crystal cargo ship were uninjured, the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen KK said, according to local media, which also reported that that vessel was now heading to harbour in Tokyo.
There was no immediate explanation as to the cause of the collision.
A statement from the U.S. navy fleet said that the crash caused “significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room.”
Despite efforts to ease the intake of water, the statement said “it remains uncertain how long it will take to gain access to the spaces once the ship is pier side in Yokosuka.”
The names of missing sailors were being withheld until families had been notified, it said.
The Japanese Coast Guard was searching for the missing and the USS Dewey and two navy tugs were also dispatched to provide help, as well as helicopters and other aircraft.
“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors,” Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said. “We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it was monitoring reports closely.
“We are coordinating with the relevant authorities including the governments of the U.S. and Japan to determine exactly the extent of damage and the number of casualties, especially if any Filipino nationals are involved,” it said.