Investigators look for cause of deadly Navy collision in Japan

Accident was not reported for nearly an hour; seven U.S. sailors dead


TOKYO — The United States Coast Guard on Tuesday started interviewing the crew of a Philippines-flagged container ship which collided with a U.S. warship in Japanese waters, killing seven American sailors.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigation is one several into the incident on Saturday involving the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the much larger ACX Crystal. The U.S. Navy confirmed that all seven missing sailors on the USS Fitzgerald were found dead in flooded berthing compartments after the destroyer’s collision.

The cause of the nighttime collision in clear weather is not known. Investigators will also gather electronic data and ship tracking information from both vessels, looking into, among other things, a time discrepancy in the ACX Crystal’s initial report of the incident south of Tokyo Bay.

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KYODO / Reuters

“There is a contradiction. It will be part of the investigation,” said Coast Guard Lt. Scott Carr.

Nearly an hour elapsed before the ACX Crystal reported the collision, according to a report by the Japanese coast guard.

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the ACX Crystal, chartered by Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK, made a complete U-turn between 12:58 a.m. and 2:46 a.m. on June 17.

The collision happened at around 1:30 a.m. but it was not until 2:25 a.m. that the container ship informed the Japanese coast guard of the accident, said coast guard spokesman Takeshi Aikawa told Reuters.

He declined to elaborate on why the ship took nearly an hour to report the accident but said it could take ships time to notify authorities as they dealt with more urgent matters.

Right after being notified of the accident by the container vessel, the Japanese coast guard made contact with the U.S. ship and confirmed it, Aikawa said.

A significant portion of the crew on the U.S. ship was asleep when the collision occurred, tearing a gash under the warship’s waterline and flooding two crew compartments, the radio room and the auxiliary machine room.

A large dent was clearly visible in its right midsection as the destroyer limped back to Yokosuka naval base south of Tokyo, home of the 7th Fleet, on Saturday evening.

The U.S. Navy on Monday identified the dead sailors as: Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Va.; Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego; Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Conn.; Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, Calif.; Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Md.; and Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio.

Two of three injured crew members who were evacuated from the ship by helicopter, including the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were released from the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said on its Facebook page on Monday. The last sailor remained in hospital and no details were given about his condition.

Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the 7th Fleet commander, was asked on Sunday if damage on the starboard side indicated the U.S. ship could have been at fault, but he declined to speculate on the cause of the collision. Maritime rules suggest vessels are supposed to give way to ships on their starboard.

Japanese authorities were looking into the possibility of “endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence,” Japanese media reported, but it was not clear whether that might apply to either or both of the vessels.

Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was investigating with the cooperation of the U.S. side and every effort would be made to maintain regional deterrence in the face of North Korea, which has recently conducted a series of missile tests.

“It is extremely important to maintain U.S. deterrence in the light of an increasingly severe regional security situation,” he told a news conference.

“We will maintain close contact with international society, including the United States and South Korea, to maintain vigilance and protect the safety of our people.”

This incident was the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen’s Aden harbor in 2000, when 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured.


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