A search and rescue operation for seven missing sailors of a U.S. Navy destroyer was called off Sunday after it collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship, Saturday.
Personnel are seen on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald which has been damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, at the US naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, June 18, 2017.
It said in an earlier statement the sailors were being transferred to a U.S. naval hospital where they would be identified.
Officials want to know how a huge container ship managed to hit a sophisticated USA destroyer off the coast of Japan, and why that ship made an unusual course changes right before impact.
Sixteen hours following the predawn Saturday collision, the destroyer was pumping out water as it limped back to its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo by sunset Saturday, its crew lined up on deck.
Seven sailors had been missing following the 2:30 a.m. incident, in which a Japanese-chartered container ship named the ACX Crystal broadsided the USS Fitzgerald, caving in part of the destroyer's starboard side.
The water flow into compartments that were berthing areas for 116 of the ship's crew was "tremendous", he said, adding that "there wasn't a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea".
Three injured sailors, including the Fitzgerald's commanding officer, were rushed to a naval hospital with undisclosed injuries.
The Navy said that the families were being notified and provided the support they need during "this hard time".
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But Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander for the Navy's 7th Fleet, did not say how many bodies were recovered, pending notification of next of kin.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said the collision led to the flooding of the crew's sleeping quarters while they were asleep.
The Fitzgerald, he said, is salvageable, but that repairs will likely take months. "They had to fight this ship to keep it above the surface".
Japanese media said all seven sailors were found dead.
Searchers found their bodies Sunday morning, Japan time.
The USS Dewey and two navy tugs had also been dispatched to provide help, as well as helicopters and other aircraft.
Seven crew members are unaccounted for after the USA destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship early Saturday morning. The 222-meter Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal had large scrapes on its bow, but none of its 20 crew were injured, Japan's coastguard said.
"You will see the USS Fitzgerald back as one of our warships", Aucoin said. Dive teams will inspect the damage after the Fitzgerald's return to port in Yokosuka, Japan.