Top US Navy commander in Japan over destroyer crash

The US Navy's top commander visited Japan Tuesday to meet with the grieving families of seven sailors killed in a weekend accident, as investigators continue their probe into the cause of the collision with a container ship.

The guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald was badly damaged in the collision with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the accident which killed seven US sailors
The guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald was badly damaged in the collision with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the accident which killed seven US sailors (AFP)

The US Navy's top commander visited Japan Tuesday to meet with the grieving families of seven sailors killed in a weekend accident, as investigators continue their probe into the cause of the collision with a container ship.

Admiral John Richardson arrived at the US naval base in Yokosuka on the outskirts of Tokyo to meet with bereaved families and officers who served on the USS Fitzgerald, said Commander Ron Flanders, press officer at the US Naval Forces in Japan.

"It's an intimate meeting, very solemn grieving with families so we're not even taking photos," he told AFP.

The navy destroyer was badly damaged in the collision with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off the Japanese coast early Saturday.

The bodies of the US sailors were found in flooded sleeping berths a day after the accident which tore a huge gash in the side of the warship.

Japanese investigators have been interviewing the Filipino crew of the Japanese-operated ACX Crystal, and hope to directly hear accounts of crew members of the Aegis-equipped USS Fitzgerald.

The United States has primary jurisdiction in investigating accidents involving its military.

"Our probe is still under way, and we are discussing" with the US authorities over interviews with American sailors, a Japanese coastguard official told AFP Tuesday.

They were also investigating why the cargo ship took nearly an hour before reporting the collision.

Originally, the Japan Coast Guard believed the crash occurred at 2:20 am Saturday (1720 GMT Friday) but its crew members have later told Japanese investigators that the incident happened at 1:30 am.

Japanese officials are also analysing why the 222-metre (730-foot) ACX Crystal made a 180 degree turn at about 2:00 am, and made another turn after it reported the accident at about 2:20 am, as shown in data from the Marine Traffic website.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the sharp turn.

"As to the chronological order of what happened and other details we are still investigating," the coastguard spokesman said, declining to elaborate further.

Richardson was also planning to meet with Japanese Marine Self-Defence Force and coast guard officials to express his appreciation for assisting in search efforts, Kyodo News reported.