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Sleeping sailors on USS Fitzgerald awoke to a calamity at sea

US Navy's 7th Fleet of the seven sailors onboard the USS Fitzgerald who died Friday. The bodies were discovered by rescue divers who worked their way through extensive damage to the Fitzgerald’s starboard side after its collision with a cargo ship.

AFP/Getty Images

US Navy's 7th Fleet of the seven sailors onboard the USS Fitzgerald who died. The bodies were discovered by rescue divers who worked their way through extensive damage to the Fitzgerald’s starboard side after its collision with a cargo ship.

TOKYO — Hundreds of sailors were asleep in their berths on board the US Navy destroyer Fitzgerald when a cargo ship struck it broadside off Japan, inflicting severe damage that nearly sank the destroyer, investigators said Sunday.

After a search through twisted wreckage and flooded cabins, the Navy said it had recovered the bodies of the seven sailors who had been declared missing after the accident early Saturday.

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They were identified as: Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, Palmyra, Va.; Alexander Douglass, 25, San Diego; Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25, Oakville, Conn.; Noe Hernandez, 26, Weslaco, Texas; Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, Calif.; Xavier Alec Martin, 24, Halethorpe, Md.; Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio.

The bodies were discovered by rescue divers who worked their way through extensive damage to the Fitzgerald’s starboard side after its collision with a cargo ship.

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Navy leaders on Sunday hailed the efforts of the surviving sailors who struggled to seal off compartments and pump out the water that poured in through gaping holes torn in the starboard side.

Officials were trying to determine whether negligent piloting by either side contributed to the collision, which occurred in a heavily-traveled shipping lane near Tokyo.

“This was not a small collision,” said Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet.

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Aucoin described how the crew of the Fitzgerald had scrambled to keep the ship afloat after it collided with the larger cargo vessel, the ACX Crystal, which is registered in the Philippines.

“They prevented the ship from foundering or even sinking,” Aucoin said. He declined to speculate about which ship had caused the collision.

He said he was ordering an investigation by the Navy’s judge advocate general. The US Coast Guard will conduct its own inquiry, and the Navy will cooperate with inquiries by the Japanese authorities.

The collision occurred in a shipping lane south of Tokyo a little before 2:30 a.m. Saturday, a time when most of the Fitzgerald’s 300 sailors would have been asleep.

No injuries were reported on the Crystal.

The Navy said the collision inflicted significant damage to the destroyer above and below the water line, flooding berths, a machinery area, and the radio room. Photos showed the side of the Fitzgerald caved in about one-third of the way back.

The Crystal, at 730 feet, is more than 200 feet longer than the Fitzgerald. It has a displacement weight of about 29,000 tons, compared with 8,300 for the Fitzgerald.

The Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was built at Bath, Maine, and commissioned in Newport, R.I.

Under international maritime rules, a vessel is supposed to give way to another on its starboard side, and the damage indicates that the Crystal had the right of way. But maritime experts cautioned that many other factors could have led to the crash.

Marine traffic records show the Crystal made a series of sharp turns about 25 minutes before the collision.

Damaged section of the USS Fitzgerald at the US Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.

Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

Damaged section of the USS Fitzgerald at the US Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.

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