TOKYO/WASHINGTON - Seven American sailors went missing and at least three were injured after a U.S. Navy destroyer collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel south of Tokyo Bay in Japan early Saturday, the U.S. Navy said.
The Japanese Coast Guard said the U.S. ship was experiencing some flooding but was not in danger of sinking, while the merchant vessel was able to sail under its own power.
In a statement, the U.S. Navy said USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel around 2:30 a.m. local time (1730 GMT), some 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, a rare incident on a busy waterway.
Three aboard the destroyer had been medically evacuated, including the ship's commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who was reportedly in stable condition after being airlifted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, the Navy said.
The other two injured were transferred to the hospital for lacerations and bruises, while other injuries were being assessed, it said. The Fitzgerald and the Japanese Coast Guard were searching for seven missing sailors.
"The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline," the Navy said in a statement.
In a statement released earlier on Twitter, US chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson said: "As more information is learnt we will be sure to share it with the Fitzgerald families."
"All of our thoughts and concerns are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families," he said.
The Japanese coastguard has sent five vessels, two planes and a team of specially trained rescue personnel to the area, the spokesman said.
Video taken by Japan's public broadcaster NHK showed heavy damage to the starboard side of the Fitzgerald just ahead of the control tower, and that the ship had taken on water.
The footage meanwhile showed relatively light damage on the port bow of the ACX Crystal.
"The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline. The collision resulted in some flooding," the Navy said.
The Navy said the Fitzgerald was still under its own power "although her propulsion was limited."
A US defense official told AFP that "sailors are de-watering" flooded areas of the ship.
The 154-meter (505-foot) Fitzgerald is based at Yokosuka, south of Yokohama and Tokyo, and operates in the Pacific and the Sea of Japan.
It has made several port visits in the Philippines, including a port call in Subic, Zambales in April.
The ACX Crystal is a 222-metre commercial container ship that, according to marine tracking websites, was on its way to Tokyo.
The ship carries a Philippine flag but is listed as owned by Japanese shipping giant NYK Line.