Bodies of missing US sailors found

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US destroyer docks at Yokosuka after collision at sea

YOKOSUKA, JAPAN The bodies of missing sailors were found in flooded compartments of the USS Fitzgerald, which came close to sinking after a collision with a container ship off Japan tore a gash under the warship's waterline, the US Navy's Seventh Fleet commander said yesterday.

Vice-Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin declined to say how many of the seven missing sailors had been recovered, but Japanese media said all had died.

"Out of concern for the families and the notification process, I will decline to state how many we have found at this time," Vice-Admiral Aucoin told a news conference.

The search at sea had ended, he said.

The USS Fitzgerald could have foundered, or even sunk, but for the crew's desperate efforts to save the ship, he said.

"The damage was significant. There was a big gash under the water," Mr Aucoin said at Yokosuka naval base, home of the US Seventh Fleet, the docked Fitzgerald behind him.

"A significant portion of the crew was sleeping" when the destroyer collided with the Philippine-flagged container ship, destroying the commander's cabin, he said.

The Fitzgerald is salvageable, he said, but repairs will likely take months.

"Hopefully less than a year. You will see the USS Fitzgerald back," Mr Aucoin said.

Multiple US and Japanese investigations are under way as to how a ship as large as the container could ram into the warship in clear weather.

Mr Aucoin was asked if damage on the starboard side indicated the US ship could have been at fault, but he declined to speculate on the cause of the collision. Maritime rules suggest vessels are supposed to give way to ships on their starboard.

There were 285 crew onboard, the spokesman said.

The Seventh Fleet said in a statement earlier yesterday: "Divers were able to access the space and found a number of bodies." They were transferred to a US naval hospital for identification, it said.

The Fitzgerald collided with the merchant vessel more than three times its size some 56 nautical miles south-west of Yokosuka early on Saturday.

Japanese authorities were looking into the possibility of "endangerment of traffic caused by professional negligence", Japanese media reported, but it was not clear whether that might apply to either or both of the vessels.- REUTERS

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