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Rescuers Search for 7 Sailors as Damaged U.S. Destroyer Reaches Port

TOKYO — Seven Navy sailors were missing on Saturday after an American destroyer collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan, the Navy said.

Rescue teams spent the day searching for the sailors as the crew of the destroyer, the Fitzgerald, fought to contain water pouring through its badly damaged hull. By Saturday night, the Fitzgerald had returned to a nearby American naval base in Japan, aided by tugboats, the Navy said.

The collision occurred on Saturday morning in a busy sea lane south of the base. Three crew members, including the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were injured severely enough that they were evacuated by helicopter, the Navy’s Seventh Fleet said in a statement.

Those sailors were conscious and under observation at a hospital at the base, the Navy said.

The cause of the collision remained unclear.

Television footage showed extensive damage to the Fitzgerald’s starboard side. The cargo ship, the Philippines-registered ACX Crystal, showed deep gashes in its bow, a pattern of damage suggesting that the Crystal — a much larger vessel, heavy with shipping containers — had collided nose-first into the Fitzgerald’s hull.

The Japanese Coast Guard said it had received an emergency call from the Crystal around 2:20 a.m., reporting the collision in a busy shipping lane.

Coast Guard officials were questioning members of the Crystal’s crew, and were treating the incident as a case of possible professional negligence, Masayuki Obara, a regional Coast Guard official, told The Associated Press.

The Fitzgerald had recently participated in military exercises with two American aircraft carriers and ships from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, as the country’s navy is known. Ships from the force and the Japanese Coast Guard were aiding in the search and rescue effort, the Navy and the Japanese government said.

“Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors,” said Adm. Scott H. Swift, the commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.

“Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families,” President Trump posted on Twitter on Saturday. “Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance.”

The Seventh Fleet said the collision occurred at 2:30 a.m. local time, about 54 nautical miles south of Yokosuka, Japan, where the United States maintains a large naval base.

There were no injuries aboard the Crystal, according to Nippon Yusen, a Japanese shipping company that was chartering the ship. The Crystal had about 20 Filipino crew members on board, the company said in a statement.

The Crystal was heading toward Tokyo at the time of the collision, after making a stop on Friday at Nagoya, Japan. With a displacement listed at just over 29,000 tons, the Crystal is close to four times the size of the Fitzgerald.

“We hope the missing seamen will be rescued as soon as possible,” Nippon Yusen said in a statement.

The Navy set up telephone hotlines for the families of the Fitzgerald’s crew members. The ship, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, normally carries about 300 sailors and officers.

The Navy said the collision inflicted significant damage to the Fitzgerald above and below the water line, flooding two berths, a machinery area and the radio room.

Whether the missing sailors had fallen into the sea or were trapped on board was unclear. Most of the crew would have been asleep in their berths at the time of the collision, and the Navy said some damaged parts of the ship were still not accessible to rescue teams.