Japan: Missing US sailors found dead in Fitzgerald destroyer

Damage is seen on the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald off the Shimoda coast, after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship, on Sat., June 17, 2017.

The U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said three Fitzgerald crew members, including the captain, were evacuated from the that collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan.

Nippon Yusen K.K., the Japanese company operating the merchant vessel, said the 20 member Filipino crew aboard the ship was safe.

The sailors, aged between 19 and 37, were reported missing after Saturday's predawn collision which triggered a major US-Japanese search operation. She didn't say how many were found.

"It could have been worse so we're grateful", she said. "You have to realize a lot of them are 18, 19 and 20-year-olds living with guilt. But I told him, 'There's a reason you're still here and make that count'".

Seven sailors who had been missing were found dead in flooded living compartments Sunday morning, Japan time, the Navy's 7th Fleet said. He wouldn't say how many bodies were recovered, pending notification of next of kin.

On Sunday, the Lake Monticello Fire Department and the Louisa County Sheriff's Office said the body of Dakota Rigsby, a volunteer firefighter with the fire department, was among others that were found when the Philippine-flagged ship damaged one machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members and began taking in water.

USS Fitzgerald, aided by tug boats, returned to Yokosuka at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.

A Navy spokesman said the victims might have been killed by the impact of the collision or drowned in the flooding. "The damage was significant".

Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the destroyer's commanding officer, was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka by a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) helicopter. The other two were being treated for lacerations and bruises, while other injured were being assessed aboard the ship, it said.

Benson's cabin was destroyed, Aucoin said. "He's lucky to be alive".

He declined to speculate about which ship had caused the collision. "Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed", a spokesman for the USA 7th Fleet said. Conditions at the time were clear, though the area - about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka - is often busy with sea traffic.

It is believed that the 222-metre container ship ACX Crystal, made an unexpected U-turn 25 minutes before the collision with USS Fitzgerald.

Civilian and military investigators tried to figure out how the nighttime collision between two vessels - both with advanced navigation systems - could have occurred. The ship arrived at Tokyo Bay later on Saturday.

Aucoin described how the crew of the Fitzgerald had scrambled to keep the ship afloat after it collided with the larger cargo vessel, the ACX Crystal, which is registered in the Philippines.

The Fitzgerald suffered extensive damage above and beneath the waterline on its starboard side.

We set up a USS Fitzgerald Emergency Family Assistance Center within hours, and disseminated the phone numbers to their hotlines through social media and Navy websites.