Rescue crews are searching for seven US navy crew members and at least three others are being treated for injuries after their guided missile destroyer collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan.
Japanese coast guard officials dispatched patrol vessels and an aeroplane while the maritime self-defence force provided a helicopter to search the area south-west of the military port city of Yokosuka.
While the full extent of injuries remains unclear, at least three people required medical evacuation. The US military confirmed that Bryce Benson, the commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald, was among the injured. He was taken to the US naval hospital in Yokosuka and is now believed to be in a stable condition.
The USS Fitzgerald sustained damage to its starboard side in the collision with ACX Crystal, a 26,362-tonne container vessel from the Philippines.
US military commanders in Japan briefed locally based relatives at a family support centre at 9.45am. Ahead of the meeting, family of the crew described their distress at the wait for information.
A concerned parent wrote on the ship’s Facebook page: "The news just reported 7 missing sailors, this is making my heart ache, please let us know soon! Praying for all aboard!”
Another posted: "My daughter is on this ship as well. We are mess here. Praying for all sailors.”
Rita Schrimsher, whose 23-year-old grandson Jackson Schrimsher is aboard the ship, told the Associated Press that the relatives were "nervous and scared and just praying”.
For relatives who were not able to make it to the support centre, the military provided phone numbers to call for information.
Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said the authorities would update the families as more information was learned.
"Thank you for your well wishes and messages of concern,” he said in a statement. "All of our thoughts and prayers are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families.”
Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific fleet, added: "Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the sailors. We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance.”
The ship’s crew was attempting to limit the damage. There were reports that the Fitzgerald has limited propulsion and has experienced flooding in three compartments.
Although the Fitzgerald was operating under its own power, the USS Dewey was on its way to the area, according to the US 7th fleet public affairs unit. US navy aircraft would also join Japan’s coast guard and maritime self-defence force helicopters, ships and aircraft "to render whatever assistance may be required”.
The USS Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was commissioned in 1995 and was originally based in San Diego, California. It was deployed in a carrier strike group that assisted the war in Iraq in 2003.
The Fitzgerald changed its home port to Yokosuka, Japan, in 2004 as part of a deployment "to counter ballistic missile threats worldwide”, according to the official history. In November 2011 the then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton met the Philippine foreign affairs secretary, Albert del Rosario, on board the ship to sign the Manila Declaration backing multilateral talks to resolve maritime disputes.
The waterways approaching Tokyo Bay are busy with commercial vessels sailing to and from Japan’s two biggest container ports in Tokyo and Yokohama.