Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Badly Damaged After Collision With Merchant Vessel (Updated)

Seven sailors are missing and the commanding officer has been medevaced by helicopter to a nearby hospital. 

U.S. Navy destroyer collides with Philippines merchant ship off
Keita Iijima—AP

The USS Fitzgerald, a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyer, collided with the shipping vessel ACX Crystal about 55 miles south of Yokosuka, Japan at 2:30AM local time. The Fitzgerald is badly damaged, with the starboard side of the ship's forward superstructure, right below its bridge and SPY-1 phased array radars, punched completely in. The ship is not moving under its own power and has been taking on water. It is unclear at this time if lives were lost or serious injuries occurred asa result on the mishap but that is likely to be the case. 

The US Navy has requested support from the Japanese Coast Guard to assist the stricken ship. The condition of the Philippine flagged merchant vessel remains unknown at this time. 

The Fitzgerald is forward-based in Japan and has been very active in region as of late, participating in large-scale exercises with two US aircraft carriers, a Japanese helicopter carrier and an array of other surface combatants near North Korean waters earlier in the month.

UPDATE- 4:00pm PST: 

Here is the latest statement from the 7th Fleet:

USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with a merchant vessel at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time, June 17, while operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.

The Japanese Coast Guard is on scene and providing assistance at the request of the U.S. Navy. Japan Coast Guard cutters IZUNAMI and KANO are on station, as well as a helicopter.

The USS Fitzgerald is under her own power, although her propulsion is limited.

The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline. The collision resulted in some flooding. The ship's crew is responding to the casualty. The full extent of damage is being determined.

The extent of number of personnel injuries is being determined. Currently working with the Japanese Coast Guard to conduct a medevac via helicopter for one Sailor.

The USS Dewey (DDG 105), medical assistance and two Navy tugs are being dispatched as quickly as practicable to provide assistance. Naval aircraft are also being readied.

In imagery popping up on social media, the ship looks to be sitting low in the water and some reports say that at least three spaces have been flooded. There is also damage below the waterline.

UPDATE- 6:55pm PST:

Seven sailors remain unaccounted for and the commanding officer of the destroyer, Commander Bryce Benson, was one of two people taken from the stricken vessel by helicopter to a nearby hospital. Both patients are in stable condition. The official statement from the 7th Fleet reads:

As of this time, there have been two patients requiring medical evacuation. One was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka and is reportedly in stable condition. A second MEDEVAC is in progress. Other injured are being assessed. There are seven Sailors unaccounted for; the ship and the Japanese Coast Guard continues to search for them. 

Although Fitzgerald is under her own power, USS Dewey (DDG 105) got underway this morning as well as several U.S. Navy aircraft, and will join Japanese Coast Guard and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopters, ships and aircraft to render whatever assistance may be required.

"U.S. and Japanese support from the Navy, Maritime Self Defense Force and Coast Guard are in the area to ensure that the Sailors on USS Fitzgerald have the resources they need to stabilize their ship. As more information is learned, we will be sure to share to it with the Fitzgerald families and when appropriate the public. Thank you for your well wishes and messages of concern. All of our thoughts and prayers are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families," said Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations.

"Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors," said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance."

Here are high-resolution photo showing the damage to the ACX Crystal and the Fitzgerald:

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UPDATE-2am PST:

The latest from 7th Fleet headquarters gives us a better idea of the damage done to the ship, but it also may foreshadow what's to come once the ship is in port and recovery teams are able to access the flooded spaces:

Shortly after the collision the U.S. made a request for support from the Japanese Coast Guard, which first arrived on scene and continues to be lead for finding the seven missing Sailors. The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ships JS Ohnami, JS Hamagiri, and JS Enshu have joined the JCG ships Izanami and Kano and USS Dewey (DDG 105). A U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft is working in concert with two JMSDF Helicopters and a JMSDF P-3 Orion aircraft to search the area. Names of the missing Sailors are being withheld until the families have been notified. 

The collision effected Fitzgerald's forward 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. While those efforts helped stabilize the flooding, it remains uncertain how long it will take to gain access to the spaces once the ship is pier side in Yokosuka in order to methodically continue the search for the missing.

Once the ship arrives in Yokosuka, divers will inspect the damage and develop a plan for repairs and inspection of the spaces. 

As of this time, there have been three patients requiring medical evacuation. One was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka by a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) helicopter. All three Sailors are awake and will remain under observation at the hospital until further notice. Two additional personnel have been medevac'd from Fitzgerald to USNH-Yokosuka by Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 (HSC-12) for lacerations and bruises. Other injured are being assessed aboard the ship.

Although the statement notes the damage above the waterline, it is likely there are hull fissures below the waterline as well, and the ACX Crystal's bulbous bow could have acted as a battering ram of sorts to areas of the ship we cannot see. There have also been statements posted on various sites from Navy personnel noting how close the ship came to sinking.

As for how this could have happened, I will just leave this link to right of way rules on the high seas for you to examine. The Fitzgerald being struck in an almost t-fashion amidship on her starboard side may offer some insight into the dynamics of the crash. Still, so many factors can come into play in a major mishap like this and almost always it is not just one mistake or failure that causes such a catastrophic incident, but a chain of them.

This vessel tracking site also offers a short history of the ship's speed via a graph, and it shows a period where the ship went from around 14 knots to zero suddenly. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of this satellite tracking data but it is interesting to examine regardless. 

Here are the most recent images available of the Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal:

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We will keep this page updated as we learn more. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com