US Navy probes destroyer crash
Names of 7 released
TOKYO, June 19, (Agencies): A probe into the crash between a US navy destroyer and a Philippine-flagged cargo ship was under way Monday, as the names of seven American sailors who died were made public.
Investigators were looking at how the USS Fitzgerald came to be holed in the smash in a busy shipping lane near its home port.
The container ship, the 222-metre Philippineflagged ACX Crystal, made a 180 degree turn shortly before the accident, according to data from the Marine Traffic website. It was not immediately clear what prompted the sharp turn. The US navy and Japan’s coastguard are conducting separate inquiries, but will likely be co-operating, a spokesman for Japan’s transport safety board told AFP.
Japanese coastguard investigators will be interviewing the Filipino crew of the Japanese-owned container ship, although the US has primary jurisdiction in investigating accidents involving military.
Citing local investigators, Japan’s top-selling Yomiuri newspaper said Monday that the damage on both ships suggests they were travelling in the same direction when the crash occurred, 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka.
The impact tore a huge gash in the Fitzgerald, sending gallons of water flooding into the berths where the crew were sleeping.
The bodies of the sailors, who were aged between 19 and 37, were recovered by navy divers after their 154-metre (500-foot) vessel limped into port.
The huge commercial vessel came into Yokosuka with large scrapes on its bow, but none of its 20 crew were injured.
Japan’s coastguard is also investigating why it took nearly an hour before the Philippine ship reported the collision, a coastguard spokesman said.
“We had first announced that the collision occurred at 2:20 am, based on the initial report from the Philippine ship, but we have now changed it to 1:30 am after directly hearing from the crew,” the spokesman said.
“We are checking what happened during the time and why the report was delayed,” he added.
There have been around 30 boat crashes over the past decade in the area, including a 2013 incident when six Japanese crew died after their cargo ship crashed with another vessel in the early morning hours, a coastguard spokesman said.
“That’s considered a lot of accidents,” he said, adding that many ships pass through the channel in the middle of the night to be on time for morning cargo pick-ups. “There are all kinds of ships navigating those waters.”
Under maritime law, the container ship had an obligation to avoid a collision if it was trying to overtake the destroyer from behind.
But if the container vessel was approaching from the US ship’s right side, the destroyer had the obligation to give way, another Japanese coastguard spokesman said.
Investigators are sure to put the vessels’ trackable movements under a microscope to figure out what set the deadly crash in motion, said Shoji Fujimoto, a maritime safety expert at Japan’s Kobe University.
On Sunday, US 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin said the crew would have had little chance of escaping the “tremendous” amount of water that gushed into the ship after the accident tore open its side.
Several other US crew members were injured in the accident and had to be evacuated by air to hospital, including the vessel’s commanding officer Bryce Benson.
He and a couple of other crew members have since been released from hospital.
Meanwhile, the mother of a US Navy sailor said her son kept diving to try to save his shipmates after a collision at sea until their flooded sleeping berth began running out of air pockets, while other survivors — believing their ship was under attack — hurried to man the guns.
Mia Sykes of Raleigh, North Carolina, told The Associated Press on Sunday that her 19-year-old son, Brayden Harden, was knocked out of his bunk by the impact, and water immediately began filling the berth, after their destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship four times its size off the Japanese coast.
Sykes says her son told her that four men in his berth, including those sleeping on bunks above and below him died, while three died in the berth above his.
“They did what they were trained to do,” said Sykes, who said she hopes her son, from Herrin, Illinois, can come home to be with family as he works through what happened. “You have to realize most of them are 18, 19 and 20-year-olds living with guilt. But I told him, ‘There’s a reason you’re still here and make that count.’”
On Monday morning in Japan, the Navy’s 7th Fleet identified the seven sailors who died. Navy divers had recovered the bodies after the severely damaged Fitzgerald returned to the fleet’s home in Yokosuka, Japan, on Saturday with assistance from tug boats.
The victims were Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr, 37, from Elyria, Ohio.
In a statement, acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley said, “We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow shipmates . ... As details emerge, we can all be proud of the heroic effort by the crew to tend to the needs of those injured and save the ship from further damage while returning safely to port.”