By: CBS News
June 19, 2017
YOKOSUKA, Japan (CBS News) -- The search for seven U.S. Navy sailors who were reported missing after their destroyer collided with a container ship was called off Sunday after they were found dead in the ship's flooded compartments.
The U.S. Navy released the names of the deceased sailors Sunday night.
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 Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland
Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy's 7th Fleet, described the damage and flooding as extensive, including a large puncture under the waterline. The crew had to fight to keep the ship afloat, he said, and the ship's captain is lucky to have survived.
"The damage was significant, this was not a small collision," said Aucoin, adding that the crew's response was "swift and effective."
"Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink. It could have been much worse," he said.
Aucoin said many of the approximately 300 sailors on board were asleep when the collision happened at 2:20 a.m. Saturday. One machinery room and two berthing areas for 116 crew members were severely damaged.
"You can't see most of the damage, the damage is mostly underneath the waterline, and it's a large gash near the keel of the ship," he said. "So the water flow was tremendous, and so there wasn't a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now the ship is still listing, so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic."
The USS Fitzgerald's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted from the ship's deck to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka with a head injury. Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were also flown out by helicopter.
"His cabin was destroyed, he is lucky to be alive," Aucoin said of Benson.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley promised a full investigation into the collision.
He said in a statement,"We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow shipmates." He also praised their colleagues for saving the ship from further damage and bringing it back to port.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a sympathy message to President Trump over the fatal collision.
"We are struck by deep sorrow," Prime Minister Abe said in his message, expressing condolences and sympathy "straight from my heart" to the victims and the injured.
"I express my heartfelt solidarity to America at this difficult time," he wrote, praising U.S. servicemen in Japan under the allies' bilateral security pact.
The container ship ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 730 feet long, much larger than the 8,315-ton Navy destroyer. The container ship's left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage.
All of the ACX Crystal's 20-member crew were safe, said Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., which operates the Philippine-flagged ship.
The Japanese coast guard questioned crew members of the ACX Crystal, and is treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.
Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, though the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.
Aucoin wouldn't speculate on the cause of the collision. He said he would order a full and thorough investigation.