YOKOSUKA: A number of missing American sailors have been found dead in flooded areas of a destroyer that collided with a container ship off Japan's coast, the US Navy said Sunday.
Seven sailors had been missing for more than 24 hours after the accident that caused heavy damage to the USS Fitzgerald, caving in part of its right side and flooding berthing spaces and the radio room.
"A number of sailors' bodies that were missing from the collision between USS Fitzgerald... and a merchant ship have been found," the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
"As search and rescue crews gained access to the spaces that were damaged during the collision... the missing sailors were located in the flooded berthing compartments.
"They are currently being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where they will be identified," it added.
It did not say how many bodies had been found or if any sailors were still missing after Saturday's collision, the cause of which is under investigation.
None of the missing sailors have been identified.
"The families are being notified and being provided the support they need during this difficult time," the Navy said.
"The names of the Sailors will be released after all notifications are made."
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, is scheduled to speak with the media later Sunday at the ship's base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo.
The accident sparked a major US-Japanese search and rescue operation.
Several other US crew members were injured and had to be evacuated by air to hospital, including the vessel's commanding officer Bryce Benson.
Thoughts and prayers
The 154-metre (500-foot) Fitzgerald was pulled by a tugboat back to its base on Saturday, where divers searched damaged areas of the guided missile destroyer, which was deployed in the mid-90s.
The container ship, the 222-metre Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, had large scrapes on its bow, but none of its 20 crew were injured, Japan's coastguard said.
Before Sunday's announcement, US President Donald Trump tweeted: "Thoughts and prayers with the sailors of USS Fitzgerald and their families. Thank you to our Japanese allies for their assistance."
The accident happened 56 nautical miles (104 kilometres) southwest of Yokosuka, in a busy shipping channel that is a gateway to major container ports in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama.
There have been several collisions involving large vessels in the area over the past five years, Japan's Asahi newspaper said.
Japan's coastguard is conducting an investigation into the accident -- including interviewing the container ship's Filipino crew -- although the US has primary jurisdiction in probing accidents involving military personnel.
"We can't comment on the accident as it's being handled by the Japanese coastguard," a spokesman for the container ship's Japanese owner, NYK Line, told AFP on Saturday.
"We will fully cooperate with authorities investigating the case."