7 still missing, 3 injured after collision between U.S. destroyer and Philippine vessel off Japan

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-17 21:54:16|Editor: Song Lifang
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TOKYO, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Seven crew members from the U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald remained unaccounted for and three others were injured following a collision between the destroyer and a Philippine container vessel in waters off Shizuoka Prefecture, in the southeast part of central Japan, early Saturday morning.

According to local media, those injured include Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who is in a stable condition in hospital. Two other crew members were airlifted to hospital also with non-life-threatening injuries, the Navy said.

The Japan Coast Guard said it had sent patrol vessels and an airplane to the site of the collision and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force has dispatched a helicopter to search for the seven missing crew members. The search party has also been joined by a U.S. aircraft, the coast guard said.

According to the coast guard here, the collision occurred about 100 km southwest of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, and was first reported by the Philippine container vessel at around 2:25 a.m. local time.

Along with the U.S. Navy, the Japan Coast Guard is investigating the collision and has questioned crew members of the 29,060 ton Philippine ACX Crystal container vessel on suspicion of possible endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence, according to local media reports.

Japan's public broadcaster NHK said that a record aboard the Philippine ship shows that it took a sharp right turn southeast of the Izu Peninsula at around 1:30 a.m., about an hour before the collision was reported.

The vessel, which was carrying 1,080 containers, was then recorded as traveling east for 30 minutes before making a U-turn and doubling back into the waters where the collision with the 8,315 ton Aegis-equipped Fitzgerald took place, NHK said.

In a crossing situation under international regulations to avoid collisions, a ship must give way to the vessel to its starboard, or the side of a ship that is on the right when one is facing forward.

A myriad of information is being analyzed on the cause of the collision, sources close to the matter have said, such as the exact locations of the two vessels, the speed they were traveling at, their routes, their radar and other surveillance capabilities, as well as the weather conditions at the time.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said that at the time of the collision the weather and therefore visibility should have been clear and the waves were at a height of around 2 meters.

The weather agency had not issued any advisories or warnings for the area, it said.

The Philippine container ship departed from Nagoya in central Japan and was headed for Tokyo on Friday evening and had already passed south of the Izu Peninsular on Friday by midnight, according to local reports.

Nippon Yusen, headquartered in Tokyo and one of the largest shipping companies in the world, said in a statement "We are collaborating with the ship owner and fully cooperating with the investigation by the coast guard."

It added that all crew members aboard the ACX Crystal have been confirmed to be safe and it has set up its own independent task force to further probe the details of the collision and how to proceed.

Televised media reports showed that the 154 meter-long U.S. guided-missile destroyer had suffered considerable damage to its right side, although the destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet, returned to the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, about 50 km southwest of Tokyo, unassisted.

Aerial footage from local media showed that the 222.6-meter long Philippine ship, which was sailing towards Tokyo, had scrape marks from the collision on the left side of its bow section. The vessel has since docked at a port in Tokyo.

Neither of the vessels involved in the collision were in danger of sinking, the Japan Coast Guard said earlier. It added that the collision took place in waters known to receive a high volume of traffic and that the area is something of a black spot for accidents.

The area can become congested with vessels coming and going from Tokyo Bay, the coast guard said, as well as with vessels navigating through the Pacific Ocean form both the east and the west.

Following the collision, the United States and the Philippines have been in discussions regarding the accident and how to deal with it, sources close to the matter said Saturday evening.

Under the bilateral status of forces agreement between the United States and Japan, the former has primary jurisdiction regarding incidents involving members of its forces.

According to NHK, an association of captains of commercial vessels is calling for the voluntary separation of lanes for east and west-bound shipping in the area where the collision happened.