USS Fitzgerald: Seven U.S. Sailors Missing After Warship Collides With Merchant Vessel Off Japan

A huge search and rescue operation is underway in the sea off Japan, after USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippines registered merchant vessel. Seven sailors are missing, and the USS Fitzgerald’s captain has been airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. The USS Fitzgerald is an Aegis guided missile destroyer, and is based in an area where many fear that World War 3 could begin. NPR report, that the Fitzgerald collided with the container ship ACX Crystal, a vessel three-times her size.

The severely damaged Fitzgerald limped into Yokosuka harbor, and the Pentagon confirms that search efforts are underway for the Fitzgerald’s seven missing crew members. The search is being conducted by U.S. Navy vessels and aircraft, with help from the Japanese coast guard.

The collision occurred 65 miles off the Japanese coast, and the Fitzgerald sustained severe damage to its starboard side. Three sailors, including the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, were injured in the collision. According to a statement from US 7th Fleet the USS Fitzgerald sustained significant damage, both above and below the waterline.

“The collision affected Fitzgerald’s forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room.

“It remains uncertain how long it will take to gain access to the spaces once the ship is pier side… to methodically continue the search for the missing.”

The collision took place in the early hours of Saturday morning, when many of the ship’s crew would have been asleep in their bunks. The machine and radio rooms would have been manned whilst the Fitzgerald was at sea, so it is entirely possible that the missing crew are trapped within the mangled parts of the ship.

Japan USS Fitzgerald Navy Collision
[Image by Japan's Defense Ministry/AP]

The USS Fitzgerald was commissioned in October 1995, and according to CNN, completed a $21 million upgrade in February of this year. The 10,000-ton warship has a crew of around 330 sailors. The Fitzgerald is deployed to Yokosuka, supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, where tensions between the U.S and North Korea have led to fears over the possibility of World War 3 beginning in the area.

According to the Daily Mail, the Fitzgerald’s crew “had a real fight to keep the ship afloat.” The names of the missing members of the Fitzgerald’s crew have not been released. The Navy will want to inform members of the sailor’s families before further details are made available.

How Does A Sophisticated Modern Warship Collide With A Container Ship?

The cause of the collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the 29,000-ton ACX Crystal is currently unknown, but container ship collisions are not unknown. In this case, the ACX Crystal weighed 29-000-tons and is over 730 feet long. In 2014, two giant container ships collided near the northern end of the Suez Canal. In 2013, the Independent reported that nine people had been killed when a container ship collided with a port control tower in Genoa, Italy.

Heavily laden container ships lack maneuverability, and it takes them a long time to slow down when they are under power. Of course, that does not explain why the much more agile USS Fitzgerald was unable to avoid the collision. You would expect that the USS Fitzgerald saw the ACX Crystal on its radar systems, hours before it would have been visible to the naked eye, and long before a collision was possible.

Japan USS Fitzgerald Navy Collision
[Image by Eugene Hoshiko/AP]

The Japanese Coastguard said that between 400 and 500 ships operate in the area the collision occurred in each day. In such heavy maritime traffic, shipping is under restricted navigation, and must operate in strictly defined shipping lanes. Sadly, in modern shipping, collisions at sea are often caused by human error.

We shall have to wait to find out, if human error caused the collision, between the Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal, and cost the lives of seven U.S. Navy sailors.

[Featured Image by Eugene Hoshiko/AP]