Search On for 7 Navy Crew After Ship Damaged in Collision

A Japanese Coast Guard vessel sails alongside the damaged USS Fitzgerald off the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, after the destroyer collided with a container ship in the waters near the Izu Peninsula on June 17. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A Japanese Coast Guard vessel sails alongside the damaged USS Fitzgerald off the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, after the destroyer collided with a container ship in the waters near the Izu Peninsula on June 17. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

YOKOSUKA, Japan -- A U.S. Navy destroyer was back in its home port after colliding before dawn Saturday with a container ship four times its size, leaving seven sailors missing.

The USS Fitzgerald, flanked by two tug boats and other support vessels, was listing to its right as it slowly approached the port at Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo.

Crew members from the destroyer USS Dewey had helped stabilize the damaged destroyer after it collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan, leaving at least three sailors injured, in addition to the seven missing.

Family members were frantically seeking news, appealing via social media for calls from sailors aboard the ship as it slowly made its way to its home port.

Rescuers were searching for seven sailors thought to have been thrown into the sea or possibly trapped inside damaged sections of the destroyer, said Japanese coast guard spokesman Yoshihito Nakamura. No one on the container ship was reported injured.

Footage from the Japanese TV network NHK showed Navy crew members working to pump water from flooded sections of the crushed mid-right side of the USS Fitzgerald.

The ship's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and was in stable condition with a head injury, the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet said in a statement. Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated, it said. 

The Fitzgerald had limited propulsion and a U.S. defense official said there was flooding in three compartments. Most of the more than 200 sailors on board would have been asleep in their berths, some of which were reportedly flooded.

The Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, home to the Seventh Fleet.

"Right now, we are focused on two things -- the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors," said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

An investigation was underway to determine what caused the nighttime collision between the destroyer and the Philippine-registered container ship.

Conditions at the time were clear, although Yutaka Saito of the Japanese coast guard said the area is particularly busy with sea traffic. The coast guard said it received an emergency call from the container ship ACX Crystal at about 2:20 a.m. (1720 GMT Friday) that it had collided with the Fitzgerald southwest of Yokusuka.

Relatives of crew members were awaiting news of their loved ones.

"Just heard the sweetest voice and saw a wonderful face. He's okay. Thank you all for the prayers," Rita Schrimsher of Athens, Ala., tweeted after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson, Jackson Schrimsher, via Facetime.

"It could have been worse, so we're grateful," she said by phone.

The Philippine ship weighs 29,060 tons and is 730 feet long, the coast guard said, much larger than the 8,315-ton Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Aerial television news footage showed its bow on the left side was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have suffered any major structural damage.

Nippon Yusen K.K., the Japanese shipping company that operates the Philippine-flagged container ship, said all of its 20-member Filipino crewmembers were safe.

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Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo and Cathy Bussewitz and Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu contributed to this report.

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