CORRECTS DATE  - The USS Fitzgerald is seen off Shimoda, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan, after the Navy destroyer collided with a merchant ship, Saturday,  June 17, 2017.  The U.S. Navy says the USS Fitzgerald suffered damage below the water line on its starboard side after it collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship.  (Iori Sagisawa/Kyodo News via AP)
Iori Sagisawa/Kyodo/AP
CORRECTS DATE - The USS Fitzgerald is seen off Shimoda, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan, after the Navy destroyer collided with a merchant ship, Saturday, June 17, 2017. The U.S. Navy says the USS Fitzgerald suffered damage below the water line on its starboard side after it collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship. (Iori Sagisawa/Kyodo News via AP)
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Story highlights

NEW: Owner, operator of container ship is cooperating with Japan Coast Guard investigation

Two berthing spaces are among areas on ship that flooded, US 7th Fleet says

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the status of the commanding officer. He was transported by medevac for treatment.

Tokyo CNN —  

Seven US sailors are missing and the commanding officer of a US destroyer is among the injured after the warship and a merchant ship collided off the coast of Japan, the US Navy said.

The 10,000-ton guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal, a 29,000-ton container ship flagged in the Philippines, collided early Saturday local time, officials said.

“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,” the 7th Fleet’s statement said.

The statement hinted that the missing sailors could be trapped in the damaged area of the destroyer.

“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 statement said.

The two ships collided around 1:30 a.m. local time Saturday in the Pacific Ocean, about 56 nautical miles southwest from the port of Yokosuka and 12 miles off the Izu Peninsula, the Japanese coast guard said.

The USS Fitzgerald heads to Yokosuka, home base of the 7th Fleet, beside a US tugboat, off Shimoda, Japan on Saturday.
Iori Sagisawa/AP
The USS Fitzgerald heads to Yokosuka, home base of the 7th Fleet, beside a US tugboat, off Shimoda, Japan on Saturday.

A Navy official said the point of impact was where crucial communications equipment was located, knocking out ship-to-shore and other forms of communication on the ship and forcing the crew to revert to the use of satellite phones.

The warship was towed back to Yokosuka, escorted by a Japanese coast guard ship, naval officials said. It arrived at port late Saturday, when divers began inspecting the damage.

Earlier, the ship’s commander, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was evacuated by a Japanese naval helicopter while US military copters evacuated two injured US sailors. All three are in stable condition at the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, public affairs officer for US Naval Forces Japan.

The Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer with a crew of approximately 330 sailors. The vessel is 505 feet long.

No one hurt on merchant ship

The merchant vessel with which the Fitzgerald collided is the ACX Crystal, a container ship flagged in the Philippines, officials said.

A photo from shipping company NYK shows damage from the collision.
NHK
A photo from shipping company NYK shows damage from the collision.

No one aboard the Crystal was hurt, and no oil spilled from the vessel, NYK said. It is back in port.

NYK and the ship’s owner are cooperating a Japan Coast Guard investigation into the collision, the shipping firm said.

“Our thoughts and deep concerns go out to all those directly affected,” NYK said.

The ship-tracking website marinetraffic.com shows the ship left the Japanese port of Nagoya on Friday evening. It was expected to dock at a Tokyo Bay port around 4:30 p.m. local time, officials said after the wreck.

Photos of the Crystal showed damage to its bow.

Damage to the Philippine container ship ACX Crystal is seen after it collided with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters off Izu Peninsula, this photo released by Japan's coast guard shows.
AP
Damage to the Philippine container ship ACX Crystal is seen after it collided with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters off Izu Peninsula, this photo released by Japan's coast guard shows.

Shipping zone can be precarious

The area where the wreck happened is known for heavy maritime traffic, the Japanese coast guard said. About 400 to 500 ships pass through the zone each day, the service said.

The large size of the container ship – it’s almost three times as heavy as the Fitzgerald – may have left the smaller US destroyer vulnerable in the collision, said Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center and a Hawaii Pacific University professor.

The area has seen two other major collisions in the past five years.

Those rules leave vessels little room to maneuver, as turning away from one ship could place a vessel at risk of an even more serious incident with another, Schuster said.

The Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer with a crew of approximately 330 sailors. The 10,000-ton vessel is 505 feet long.

It completed $21 million in upgrades and repairs in February and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the service said.

The 29,000-ton container ship, which handles general cargo, includes a captain and a crew of 20, NYK said. It was built in 2008 and is about 730 feet long.

The larger size of the container ship could have left the smaller US destroyer vulnerable in the collision, Schuster said.

An injured USS Fitzgerald crew member is carried by US military personnel, left, and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force members upon arriving Saturday to the US Naval Base in Yokosuka Japan.
AP
An injured USS Fitzgerald crew member is carried by US military personnel, left, and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force members upon arriving Saturday to the US Naval Base in Yokosuka Japan.

The force of the impact could have thrown overboard sailors who were standing on the opposite side of the destroyer from where it was struck, he said. That could account for the missing sailors, who may have been on deck on watch or even just relaxing in the night air, he said.

Sailors also could h