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Seven Sailors Missing From US Warship After Collision Off Japanese Coast

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CBS News CBS News
TOKYO -

Seven U.S. Navy sailors are missing after the USS Fitzgerald destroyer collided before dawn with a container ship four times its size off the coast of Japan, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports. 

A spokesman for the 7th Fleet said U.S. and Japanese aircraft continue to search for the missing sailors. The collision occurred at 2:30 a.m. local time about 56 nautical miles off the coast of Yokosuka, Japan, which is home to the 7th Fleet.

The Fitzgerald was back at its home port in Yokosuka Naval Base south of Tokyo by sunset Saturday, its crew lined up on deck. The Philippine-flagged container ship was berthed at Tokyo's Oi wharf, where officials began questioning crew members about the cause of the nighttime crash.

The seven sailors were thought to have been thrown into the sea or possibly trapped inside damaged sections of the destroyer, said Japanese coast guard spokesman Yoshihito Nakamura.

The Fitzgerald was struck by the Philippine-registered container ship ACX Crystal. The Philippine ship is 29,060 tons and 730 long, the coast guard said, much larger than the 8,315-ton naval destroyer. Aerial television news footage showed its bow on the left side was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have suffered any major structural damage.
The area is particularly busy with sea traffic, said Yutaka Saito of the coast guard.

Japanese vessels first arrived on the scene and the coast guard is leading the search. U.S. aircraft is assisting in the effort, along with several Japanese helicopters and one plane, the 7th Fleet said.

The collision injured the vessel "above and below the water line, causing significant damage," the 7th Fleet said.

The Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer commissioned in 1995, is based in Yokosuka, according to the Navy. Its crew typically includes 23 officers, 24 chief petty officers and 291 enlisted sailors.   

The Fitzgerald's captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka and was in stable condition, the 7th Fleet said in a statement. Two other crew suffered cuts and bruises and were evacuated, it said. It was unclear how many others may have been hurt.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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