(CNSNews.com) - This is a difficult time for the U.S. military: Seven American sailors were killed on Friday and the commanding officer was seriously injured when a U.S. Navy destroyer inexplicably crashed into a huge container ship off the coast of Japan.
The USS Fitzgerald was extensively damaged, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet, told a news conference on Sunday. “Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink. It could have been much worse,” he said.
And after 15 years of war in Afghanistan, American soldiers are still coming under fire from the Afghans they’re supposed to be helping.
Seven Americans were injured on Saturday, when an Afghan soldier shot at them in an Afghan National Army base in Mazar-I-Sharif. A week earlier, three other American troops were killed in what is believed to be another insider attack.
The USS Fitzgerald hit the Filipino container ship around 2:20 a.m. local time on Friday, Aucoin said. The weather was clear, and the commanding officer was asleep below decks when his cabin took a direct hit.
Seven sailors died in their flooded berths below decks. The commanding officer also was trapped inside his cabin, Aucoin said, but eventually he was freed and flown by helicopter to a Japanese hospital. Efforts to free the trapped sailors were unsuccessful.
The collision caused significant damage under the Fitzgerald’s pilothouse and a large puncture below the ship’s waterline, “opening the hull to the sea,” Aucoin said.
“The crew's response was swift and effective, and I want to point out -- as we stand by the ship -- how proud I am of them,” Aucoin told the news conference at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan on Saturday. “Because of the tireless damage control efforts of a resolute and courageous team, the ship was able to make its way back to port safely on its own power last evening” (Friday).”
At least three investigations will be conducted, Aucoin said:
“We owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened. Under my authority, I am initiating a JAGMAN (Judge Advocate General manual) investigation into this collision, and I will appoint a flag officer to lead that investigation. There will also be a safety investigation. The U.S. Coast Guard is to take the lead on the marine casualty investigation,” Aucoin said.
“We recognize that there are other organizations who have equities in this incident, and we expect they will conduct their own separate investigations. More information on any further investigations will be forthcoming.”
Aucoin refused to speculate on how long the investigations will last.
The vice admiral mourned the loss of the seven sailors, and he also expressed “heartfelt appreciation” for the “swift support and assistance” of “our Japanese allies.”
Later on Sunday, the Navy announced the names and hometowns of the seven sailors who died in their flooded berth:
- Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia
- Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California
- Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut
- Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
- Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
- Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland
- Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio