Japan coast guard confirms seven missing after US destroyer collides with container ship

WASHINGTON/TOKYO, June 16 (Reuters) - Japan's Coast Guard confirmed on Saturday that seven crew members of the USS Fitzgerald naval destroyer were missing after it collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel in the dead of night southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.

The coast guard also said the U.S. ship was experiencing some flooding but was not in danger of sinking, while the container vessel was able to sail under its own power.

The Navy said in a statement that the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel at about 2:30 a.m. local time (1730 GMT), some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, a rare incident on a busy waterway.

The Navy said one injured U.S. sailor would be evacuated by a Japanese coast guard helicopter.

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USS Fitzgerald -- US Navy destroyer
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USS Fitzgerald -- US Navy destroyer
AT SEA - SEPTEMBER 8: (FILE PHOTO) In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) is on patrol on Sept. 8, 2014, in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
AT SEA - JUNE 1: (FILE PHOTO) In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) is underway with the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, on June 1, 2017 in the western Pacific region. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and U.S. Navy forces routinely train together to improve interoperability and readiness to provide stability and security for the Indo-Asia Pacific region. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kelsey L. Adams/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
AT SEA - AUGUST 20: (FILE PHOTO) In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) is underway on August 20, 2013 in the Pacific Ocean. Fitzgerald is on patrol with the George Washington Carrier Strike Group in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
AT SEA - MARCH 7: (FILE PHOTO) In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) launches a missile from the aft missile deck during Multisail 17 on March 7, 2017 in the Philippine Sea. The bilateral training exercise is designed to improve interoperability between the U.S. and Japanese forces. This exercise benefits from realistic, shared training enhancing our ability to work together to confront any contingency. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William McCann/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
US destroyer USS Fitzgerald arrives at the former US naval base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City, north of Manila on June 27, 2013, to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises close to a flashpoint area of the South China Sea. The six-day exercises involving three US Navy vessels, including the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, are an annual event but this year they will be held off the west coast of the Philippines' main island of Luzon, close to Scarborough Shoal which China insists it owns. AFP PHOTO / David Bayarong (Photo credit should read david bayarong/AFP/Getty Images)
US destroyer USS Fitzgerald arrives at the former US naval base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City, north of Manila on June 27, 2013, to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises close to a flashpoint area of the South China Sea. The six-day exercises involving three US Navy vessels, including the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, are an annual event but this year they will be held off the west coast of the Philippines' main island of Luzon, close to Scarborough Shoal which China insists it owns. AFP PHOTO / David Bayarong (Photo credit should read david bayarong/AFP/Getty Images)
US destroyer USS Fitzgerald arrives at the former US naval base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City, north of Manila on June 27, 2013, to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises close to a flashpoint area of the South China Sea. The six-day exercises involving three US Navy vessels, including the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, are an annual event but this year they will be held off the west coast of the Philippines' main island of Luzon, close to Scarborough Shoal which China insists it owns. AFP PHOTO / David Bayarong (Photo credit should read david bayarong/AFP/Getty Images)
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Seen at Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan
QINGDAO, CHINA - APRIL 19: (CHINA OUT) Chinese naval soldiers welcome the arrival of the USS Fitzgerald at Qingdao Port on April 19, 2009 in Qingdao of Shandong Province, China. China's navy is set to hold a huge maritime ceremony to mark its 60 years of the Chinese navy and has invited ships and top officials from dozens of countries to attend. (Photo by Zhang Lei/VCG via Getty Images)
QINGDAO, CHINA - APRIL 19: (CHINA OUT) The USS Fitzgerald docks at Qingdao Port on April 19, 2009 in Qingdao of Shandong Province, China. China's navy is set to hold a huge maritime ceremony to mark its 60 years of the Chinese navy and has invited ships and top officials from dozens of countries to attend. (Photo by Zhang Lei/VCG via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) leaves the USS Fitzgerald, a US Navy destroyer, docked at the Manila bay, after signing a declaration marking the 60 years since the United States signed a security treaty with the Philippines on November 16, 2011. Clinton vowed military support for the Philippines, delivering a firm message from the deck of an American warship at a time of rising tensions with China. AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
US destroyer USS Fitzgerald arrives at the former US naval base in Subic Bay, Olongapo City, north of Manila on June 27, 2013, to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises close to a flashpoint area of the South China Sea. The six-day exercises involving three US Navy vessels, including the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, are an annual event but this year they will be held off the west coast of the Philippines' main island of Luzon, close to Scarborough Shoal which China insists it owns. AFP PHOTO / David Bayarong (Photo credit should read david bayarong/AFP/Getty Images)
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"The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline," the Navy said in a statement.

It said the destroyer had experienced some flooding, and that the full extent of damage to the ship and injuries to its crew were still being determined. It said the Fitzgerald was operating under its own power, "although her propulsion is limited."

A spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet said earlier that the ship was heading back to Yokosuka under its own power at 3 knots and would likely dock in a couple of hours.

Situated at the approach to Tokyo bay, Yokosuka and the waters to its south are busy with commercial vessels sailing to and from Japan's two biggest container ports in Tokyo and Yokohama.

The USS Dewey and two Navy tugboats were being dispatched to provide assistance, the Navy said.

Japan's public broadcaster NHK showed aerial footage of the destroyer, which had a large dent in its right, or starboard, side. Images broadcast by NHK showed it had been struck next to its Aegis radar arrays behind its vertical launch tubes.

The images showed what appeared to be significant damage on the deck and to part of the radar. NHK also showed footage of the container vessel and said it was heading towards Tokyo under its own power.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that neither ship was in danger of sinking but that there was information that some crew may have gone overboard. It did not provide a source. Reuters could not immediately verify that account.

The 7th fleet said the collision was with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal. At around 29,000 tons displacement it is about three times the size of the U.S. warship.

A spokesman for the Philippines coast guard said he had heard of the accident but had no details since it was not in Philippine waters.

Such incidents are rare.

In May, the U.S. Navy's USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel but both ships were able to operate under their own power.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Chizu Nomiyama in New York; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by James Dalgleish, Toni Reinhold)

(Reporting by Japan bureau. Editing by Bill Tarrant.)

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