YOKOSUKA, Japan - U.S. and Japanese vessels and aircraft searched Saturday for seven American sailors who were missing after their Navy destroyer collided before dawn with a container ship four times its size off the coast of Japan.
The USS Fitzgerald was back at its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo by sunset Saturday, its crew lined up on deck. The Philippine-flagged container ship was berthed at Tokyo's Oi wharf, where officials began questioning crew members about the cause of the nighttime crash.
After helping stabilize the USS Fitzgerald, the destroyer USS Dewey joined other American and Japanese vessels and aircraft in the search for the missing sailors.
At least three other Navy sailors were injured in the crash.
Family members were frantically seeking news, appealing via social media for calls from sailors aboard from the ship.
The U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement that the crash damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room. Most of the more than 200 sailors aboard would have been asleep in their berths at the time of the pre-dawn crash.
Water was being pumped out of flooded areas and it was unclear how long it would take to get into the crushed mid-right side of the ship once it was at the pier in Yokosuka, the statement said.
"This has been a difficult day," said Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet. "I am humbled by the bravery and tenacity of the Fitzgerald crew. Now that the ship is in Yokosuka, I ask that you help the families by maintaining their privacy as we continue the search for our shipmates."
The USS Fitzgerald's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted early Saturday to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and was in stable condition with a head injury, the Navy said. Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated. It was unclear how many others may have been hurt.
The Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles (103 kilometres) southwest of Yokosuka, home to the 7th Fleet.
"Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors," said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The Japanese coast guard said it received an emergency call from the container ship, the ACX Crystal, reporting the collision at around 2:20 a.m. (17:20 GMT Friday). It was questioning crew members of the ACX Crystal, which is operated by the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., and was treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, said Masayuki Obara, a regional coast guard official.
"Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families," President Donald Trump said on Twitter. "Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance."
The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 222 metres (730 feet) long, the coast guard said, 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.
Nippon Yusen said all of the ACX Crystal's 20-member Filipino crew members were safe.
Conditions were clear at the time of the collision, though Yutaka Saito of the coast guard said the area is particularly busy with sea traffic.
The names of the missing sailors were being withheld pending notification of their families. U.S. Navy personnel set up support and counselling services to help families as they sought updates on crew members.
"Just heard the sweetest voice and saw a wonderful face. He's okay. Thank you all for the prayers," Rita Schrimsher of Athens, Alabama, tweeted after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson, Jackson Schrimsher, via Facetime.
"It could have been worse, so we're grateful," she said by phone.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo and Cathy Bussewitz and Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu contributed to this report.