Thousands of people attended a memorial ceremony in Yokosuka, Japan for the seven American sailors killed after a cargo ship smashed into the side of a U.S. Navy destroyer.
More than 2,000 sailors and their families were present, waving American flags in memory of the fallen, according to the Navy, the Associated Press reports.
The Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal collided with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald before dawn Saturday June 17. As the merchant ship was more than three times the size of the naval vessel, it ripped through the American warship, causing significant damage to the starboard side, both above and below the waterline.
The ship took on water, flooding several berthing compartments where sailors were sleeping at the time of the incident. Navy divers discovered the bodies of seven sailors in the hull of the ship.
The seven sailors who lost their lives aboard the Fitzgerald were, according to the Navy, Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlosvictor Ganzon Sibayan, Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr.
Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, praised the crew for keeping the Fitzgerald afloat after the incident.
“It’s stunning, absolutely stunning, while we mourn the loss of the seven sailors, that more were not lost,” the admiral said in a statement. “There was no understanding of what had happened at the moment of impact … but there was complete understanding of what needed to be done.”
Members of the crew demonstrated bravery in courage in a difficult situation. 37-year-old Rehm, one of the ill-fated sailors, sacrificed himself to save his shipmates. He repeatedly dove into the flooded compartments and saved around two dozen sailors. Rehm lost his life when he went back to save the his brothers in arms. While some sailors took action to rescue trapped or injured crew members, others rushed to save the ship, which might have otherwise been lost.
“Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink,” Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the head of the 7th Fleet, stated Sunday, “It could have been much worse … 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.”
Six investigations followed the fatal collision. There have been two internal hearings by the Navy, a probe by the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as investigations by the Japan Transport Safety Board, the Japanese Coast Guard, and the Philippine government. The investigations are focused on how a destroyer equipped with advanced radar be struck by a significantly larger vessel.
The captain of the ACX Crystal claims that the destroyer failed to respond to warnings, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding this tragic incident.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley has ordered that the American flag be flown at half mast from sunrise to sunset Tuesday. “We’re not going to be over this,” Adm. Swift told Stars and Stripes, suggesting that the scars of this incident, the largest loss of life for the Navy since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, will last a long time.
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