(ABC News) — The seven sailors that were missing following a collision between a U.S. Navy ship and a merchant ship have been found dead, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News.
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship off the coast of Japan in the early hours of Saturday morning local time, according to the Navy’s 7th Fleet. The Fitzgerald was operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, when it hit the container ship at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time.
Initially, five sailors were reported injured and seven sailors were reported missing, though the remains of those sailors have since been found.
“As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments,” the 7th Fleet said in a statement this evening. “They are currently being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified.”
The statement continues: “The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time. The names of the sailors will be released after all notifications are made.”
When reached for comment, Cmdr. Ronald Flanders of the U.S. Naval Forces Japan said the focus right now is on the families.
“An investigation will no doubt be conducted in weeks and moths ahead…” he said. “We’ve got people weeping on the pier right now.”
Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin of the 7th fleet said at a press conference Sunday that the Navy has ceased its search and rescue operation. While a U.S. official tells ABC News that seven bodies were found, Aucoin declined to confirm the number of fatalities, except to say that there were “a number” of missing personnel. He said he was doing so out of respect for the families.
Earlier, the 7th Fleet said the U.S. ship sustained damage on its starboard side and experienced flooding in some spaces.
At the press conference, Aucoin described the damage as “extensive,” adding that there was a big puncture and gash below the waterline on one side of the ship. He also said three compartments were severely damaged.
“The ship is salvageable … [it] will require some significant repair,” Aucoin said. “You will see the USS Fitzgerald back … It will take months, hopefully under a year.”
Four sailors and the ship’s commanding officer were medically evacuated by a Japanese coast guard helicopter, according to Cmdr. Richard Gourley of the U.S. Naval Forces Japan. The 7th Fleet has since confirmed the sailors are in stable condition and are being treated for lacerations and bruises at the Naval Hospital Yokosuka.
“U.S. and Japanese support from the Navy, Maritime Self-Defense Force and Coast Guard are in the area to ensure that the sailors on USS Fitzgerald have the resources they need to stabilize their ship,” said Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, in an earlier statement.
“As more information is learned, we will be sure to share it with the Fitzgerald families and when appropriate the public,” he added. “Thank you for your well wishes and messages of concern. All of our thoughts and prayers are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families.”
“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. “We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”
An information center with available counselors has been set up at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka.