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Seven Americans still missing after destroyer's collision as search continues

18 June 2017

Seven U.S. sailors remain missing after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan early Saturday morning.

Damage is seen on the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald off the Shimoda coast, after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship, on June 17, 2017.

Officials are now questioning the freighter's crew at Tokyo's Oi wharf over the cause of the night-time crash.

Other injured sailors are being assessed, the Navy said.

The large size of the container ship - it's nearly three times as heavy as the Fitzgerald - may have left the smaller US destroyer vulnerable in the collision, said Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center and a Hawaii Pacific University professor.

Family members are frantically seeking news, appealing via social media for sailors aboard the ship to get in touch.

The Navy's 7th Fleet reported the developments in an update on the stricken ship that was nearing the port of Yokosuka in Japan.

The vessel was taking on water after the incident, but the crew was working to stabilise the ship by pumping water out of the hold, the official said.

"This has been a hard day", said Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet.

The Pentagon set up a hotline for families of the crew of the Fitzgerald to check on the status of loved ones.

It completed $21 million in upgrades and repairs in February and is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the service said. Three aboard the destroyer were treated at the U.S. Naval Hospital, including ship Commander Bryce Benson.

Two other crew members suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated, it said.

The US Navy said that the collision occurred 56 nautical miles (103 kilometers) southwest of Yokosuka, which is home to the 7th Fleet.

The rules require that ships must have a watch posted at all times and follow a number of collision-avoidance steps when crossing paths with or overtaking other vessels.

Nippon Yusen said in a statement, "We are collaborating with the ship owner and fully cooperating with the investigation by the coast guard".

The container ship's left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage.

NHK said the massive container vessel made a sharp turn around the time of the collision with the smaller U.S. warship, but its captain suggested otherwise.

The names of missing sailors were being withheld until families had been notified.

The US warship - part of its right side caved in as crew members pumped water from flooded areas - was pulled by a tugboat as it limped back to base in Yokosuka, where the navy said divers were trying to reach parts of the vessel smashed in the accident.

"So anxious. Just need to hear she is OK".

A U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft is working in concert with two Japanese military helicopters and a Japanese P-3 Orion aircraft to search the area, according to a release.

"It could have been worse, so we're grateful", she said by phone. "He's okay. Thank you all for the prayers", tweeted Rita Schrimsher of Athens, Alabama, after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson, Jackson Schrimsher, via Facetime.