BATH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A U.S. Navy destroyer built at Bath Iron Works collided with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship Saturday off the coast of Japan.
The Navy released the name of the seven sailors killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald after their bodies were found in the flooded destroyer, which had collided with a container ship off Japan.
The destroyer has a crew of about 300 and most were asleep when the ship collided with the container ship ACX Crystal — a vessel more than three times larger. Tugs dragged the ship to the 7th Fleet’s home base in Yokosuka, Japan, and Navy divers found "a number" of bodies in the ship the following day.
About 200 sailors were aboard the ship at the time of the collision.
The USS Fitzgerald is a Raleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyer, built around the Aegis Combat system.
She's been in Japan for the past 13 years as part of Destroyer Squadron 5, a contingent of ships based there to counter ballistic missile threats worldwide.
The collision has hit a local Marine attorney particularly hard. Chris Monroe practices law at the Portland law firm Verrill Dana. In 2013, he retired as Commander from the USS Curtis Wilbur, the sister ship to the USS Fitzgerald.
“The risk of collision is certainly something that is always on your mind, but it’s one of many risks that you manage on a daily basis while on command.”
► WATCH: USS Fitzgerald Q&A
Monroe uses the words moved and troubled to describe how he felt when learning the fate of the USS Fitzgerald shortly after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship in Japan. Fitzgerald’s starboard side was seriously damaged.
My primary concern was with the sailors that initially were missing and then now we know the outcome.”
Seven sailors, aged 19 to 37, were found dead in flooded berthing compartments below deck. Monroe, who knows every corner of the destroyer's layout explains the space where the sailors were sleeping. “The challenge with the enlisted crew berthing space is they’re large, and difficult to evacuate on short notice so absolutely, as I saw the pictures and the images I knew precisely where on that ship the damage had occurred and the risks that that presented to the vessel as well.”
And while a massive, collaborative investigation between the US Navy and the Japanese is underway to determine what happened, Chris Monroe has some ideas.
"The difficult part about operating in that part of the world is that you have a large flow of merchant traffic heading into Tokyo and the surrounding ports, but in addition you have a large fishing fleet that operates in that area as well and when I operated over there in command of the destroyer, we were equally concerned about both.”
Monroe’s concerns are with the families of the dead sailors, the USS Fitzgerald's Commander, and the remaining 200 Fitzgerald crewmembers.
“I think the important point is to remember is that these are young men and women who volunteered to serve in the Navy, they wear the cloth of the nation, they do it on the tip of the spear and they are constantly focused not only on keeping their ship and their shipmates safe but also executing the mission of the US Navy.”
The collision damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room, and the ship's radio room. The U.S. 7th fleet is reporting that most of the 200 sailors aboard Fitzgerald would have been asleep at the time of the collision which, according to Japanese news outlets, could be treated as a possible case of endangerment of traffic, caused by professional negligence.
“The damage was significant, this was not a small collision,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Late Sunday the Navy released a list of names of the deceased:
• Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Va.
• Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego
• Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Conn.
• Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
• Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, Calif.
• Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Md.
• Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a sympathy message Sunday to President Trump.
“We are struck by deep sorrow,” expressing condolences and sympathy “straight from my heart” to the victims and the injured, Abe said in the statement. “I express my heartfelt solidarity to America at this difficult time,” praising U.S. servicemen in Japan under the allies’ bilateral security pact.
Trump posted a message Saturday on Twitter expressing his concern for the sailors and his appreciation to Japan for its assistance.
Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance. https://t.co/d1l5ctjNyB— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 17, 2017
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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