The U.S. 7th Fleet commander promised multiple investigations into Saturday’s fatal collision between the destroyer Fitzgerald and a Philippine-flagged containership.
“We owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened,” U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin said during a press conference Sunday in Yokosuka, Japan. “Under my authority, I am initiating a JAGMAN 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.”
Details of the incident remain sketchy, but the 505'x59'x31' Fitzgerald was involved in a collision with the 730'x102' ACX Crystal early Saturday morning while operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, the Navy said.
The collision affected Fitzgerald's forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and flooding two berthing spaces, a machinery space and the radio room. Seven sailors were missing after the crash, and their remains were located Monday after the ship returned to Yokosuka and divers were able to access the flooded compartments.
The deceased were identified as:
- Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, Palmyra, Va.
- Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, San Diego.
- Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, Oakville, Conn.
- Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, Weslaco, Texas
- Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, Chula Vista, Calif.
- Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, Halethorpe, Md.
- Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, Elyria, Ohio.
Three patients required medical evacuation from the ship. One was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who was trapped inside his cabin following the collision and was later transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka.
Cmdr. Benson was evacuated by a Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force helicopter, and Japanese responders were the first on the scene.
“I want to express my most heartfelt appreciation to our Japanese allies for their swift support and assistance,” Vice Adm. Aucoin said.
Aucoin also praised the “heroic efforts” of the crew of the Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that was built in Maine by Bath Iron Works in 1994 and commissioned in 1995 in Newport, R.I.
“The Fitzgerald crew responded professionally as all sailors are expected to fight the damage sustained to their ship,” Aucoin said. “They are known as the 'Fighting Fitz' and the crew lived up to that name."
Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley issued a statement on the incident, calling for support of the affected families.
“In due time, the United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this tragedy and I ask all of you to keep the Fitzgerald families in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us.”