Exclusive: US warship stayed on deadly collision course despite warning - container ship captain

TOKYO, June 26 (Reuters) - A U.S. warship struck by a container vessel in Japanese waters failed to respond to warning signals or take evasive action before a collision that killed seven of its crew, according to a report of the incident by the Philippine cargo ship's captain.

Multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations are under way into how the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the much larger ACX Crystal container ship collided in clear weather south of Tokyo Bay in the early hours of June 17.

In the first detailed account from one of those directly involved, the cargo ship's captain said the ACX Crystal had signaled with flashing lights after the Fitzgerald "suddenly" steamed on to a course to cross its path.

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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 container ship steered hard to starboard (right) to avoid the warship, but hit the Fitzgerald 10 minutes later at 1:30 a.m., according to a copy of Captain Ronald Advincula's report to Japanese ship owner Dainichi Investment Corporation that was seen by Reuters.

The U.S. Navy declined to comment and Reuters was not able to independently verify the account.

The collision tore a gash below the Fitzgerald's waterline, killing seven sailors in what was the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen's Aden harbor in 2000.

Those who died were in their berthing compartments, while the Fitzgerald's commander was injured in his cabin, suggesting that no alarm warning of an imminent collision was sounded.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, the Fitzgerald's home port, said he was unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.

The incident has spurred six investigations, including two internal hearings by the U.S. Navy and a probe by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board. The Japan Transport Safety Board, the JCG and the Philippines government are also conducting separate investigations.

Spokesmen from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), U.S. Coast Guard and ship owner, Dainichi Invest, also declined to comment. Reuters was not able to contact Advincula, who was no longer in Japan.

The investigations will examine witness testimony and electronic data to determine how a naval destroyer fitted with sophisticated radar could be struck by a vessel more than three times its size.

Another focus of the probes has been the length of time it took the ACX Crystal to report the collision. The JCG says it was first notified at 2:25 a.m., nearly an hour after the accident.

In his report, the ACX Crystal's captain said there was "confusion" on his ship's bridge, and that it turned around and returned to the collision site after continuing for 6 nautical miles (11 km).

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the ACX Crystal, chartered by Japan's Nippon Yusen KK, made a complete U-turn between 12:58 a.m. and 2:46 a.m.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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