The seven US sailors who were killed after a destroyer collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan have been identified, Navy officials said Sunday.
The bodies of all seven sailors were recovered in flooded berthing compartments, one day after their ship, the destroyer USS Fitzgerald, was rammed by a merchant vessel at around 2:30 a.m. local time Saturday. Though the Navy did not initially say how many bodies had been recovered, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, told reporters Sunday that search and rescue efforts had ended for the seven missing sailors.
"As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision this morning, the missing sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments," the 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The sailors were identified as Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut; Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio.
An investigation into the collision is currently underway, according to Navy officials.
"As details emerge, we can all be proud of the heroic effort by the crew to tend to the needs of those injured and save the ship from further damage while returning safely to port," Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley said in a statement Sunday.
"In due time, the United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this tragedy and I ask all of you to keep the Fitzgerald families in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us."
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven S. Giordano tweeted that the "Navy family is mourning."
It was not immediately clear what caused the collision, which also involved the ACX Crystal, a 29,000-ton container vessel from the Philippines. Reuters described the ACX Crystal as three times the size of the Fitzgerald.
In the aftermath of the incident, the Navy said the Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, suffered damage on its starboard side, above and below the water line, "causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room, which damage control teams quickly began dewatering."
At a press conference Sunday, Aucoin described the damage to the ship as "extensive."
"The water flow is tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea," Aucoin told reporters. "They had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic.”
“We owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened,” Aucoin said.
In addition to the seven who were initially declared missing, three sailors were injured in the collision, requiring helicopter transport for medical evacuation. Among the three injured was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the USS Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who was transferred to US Naval Hospital Yokosuka and is reportedly in stable condition, the Navy said.
The other two injured sailors, who have not yet been identified, were evacuated to US Naval Hospital Yokosuka for lacerations and bruises. Others are being treated for injuries on board the Fitzgerald, according to statement from the Navy.
While the ship experienced some flooding, it was still operating under its own power, albeit with limited propulsion. The US deployed a ship and tug boats to assist the Fitzgerald after the collision, and prepared aircraft to assist as well. The Japanese Coast Guard also aided in the rescue.
The Navy and Japanese Coast Guard launched a search for the missing sailors shortly after the collision, and the Fitzgerald was brought back into its base with the help of tugboats. Once there, divers were able to access the flooded areas and found a number of bodies, officials said.
According to the Navy, the Fitzgerald is one of eight destroyers "forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region." The Fitzgerald was launched in 1994. Cmdr. Benson took over leadership of the vessel just last month.
The president and vice-president each tweeted Saturday that their thoughts and prayers were with the crew and their families.