JUNE 17, 2016 — Sixteen hours after being involved in a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant ship ACX Crystal while operating about 56 nautical miles off the coast of Japan, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), aided by tugboats, returned to Yokosuka at 6:15 p.m. this evening, local time.
Seven of Fitzgerald’s crew remain missing. Extensive search and rescue efforts continue by U.S. and Japanese aircraft and surface vessels in the hopes of recovering the missing crew.
Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, along with many family members, were on the pier when the ship arrived.
“This has been a difficult day,” Aucoin said. “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.”
Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander, Task Force 70, said, “I want to highlight the extraordinary courage of the Fitzgerald Sailors who contained the flooding, stabilized the ship and sailed her back to Yokosuka despite the exceptionally trying circumstances.”
Shortly after the collision the U.S. made a request for support from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), which was the first on scene and continues to be lead for search and rescue efforts. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships JS Ohnami, JS Hamagiri, and JS Enshu were sent to join the JCG ships Izanami and Kano.
The USS Dewey (DDG 105) served as an escort for Fitzgerald and has also returned to Yokosuka. A U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft is working in concert with two JMSDF Helicopters and a JMSDF P-3 Orion aircraft to search the area. Names of the missing sailors are being withheld until the families have been notified.
The collision damaged Fitzgerald’s forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space and the radio room, which damage control teams quickly began dewatering.
Though the ship is back in Yokosuka it remains uncertain as to how long it will take to gain access to the spaces in order to methodically continue the search for the missing.
Once the ship arrived in Yokosuka, divers began inspecting the damage and developing a plan for repairs and inspection of the spaces.
Three crew required medical evacuation from the ship. One was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, who was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka by a JMSDF helicopter. All three sailors are awake and will remain under observation at the hospital until further notice. Other injured are being assessed.
The USS Fitzgerald Emergency Family Assistance Center will remain open for chaplain and counselor care indefinitely, 24/7, on the Command Readiness Center’s 4th floor (across from the commissary) – in the same classroom where the Area Orientation Brief (AOB) is hosted.
As we reported earlier, Fitzgerald was involved in a collision with the 29,060 gt containership ACX Crystal at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time, June 17, while operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.