Tokyo (CNN)The search was on for seven US sailors missing after an American warship and a merchant vessel collided off the coast of Japan, as US forces and Japanese authorities worked to figure out why the vessels struck each other.
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 destroyer suffered severe damage to its starboard side, while the container ship sustained light damage.
“This has been a difficult day,” Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the US 7th Fleet, said.
Forces overnight intensified their search for the missing sailors and tried to get a handle on the cause of a crash in a busy maritime zone crossed daily by 400 to 500 ships.
US and Japanese crafts scoured the spot where the collision happened, about 56 nautical miles southwest Yokosuka and 12 miles off the Izu Peninsula.
The missing sailors could be trapped in a damaged section of the destroyer, a statement from the 7th Fleet suggested.
“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.
President Donald Trump retweeted an update Saturday from the US 7th Fleet on the ship’s status and the search-and-rescue mission, saying: “Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance.”
A senior administration official told CNN that Trump “is closely monitoring the USS Fitzgerald and will continue getting updates on the situation there. The President is always working, but is looking forward to spending time with his family.”
A ‘difficult day’ for the Navy
Naval commanders praised the sailors for containing flooding caused by the collision, stabilizing the ship and sailing it back to port at the US naval base in Yokosuka, where divers inspected its damage and developed a plan for repairs and inspection. The ship had left the base on Friday for routine operations.
“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.