The Navy is investigating the horrifying possibility that some of those who died on the USS Fitzgerald when it sank may have been trapped alive in rapidly flooding compartments as emergency hatches were closed, it has emerged.
Cargo ship the ACX Crystal slammed into the side of the US destroyer off the Japanese coast while much of the rest of the crew were asleep on Saturday.
The cargo ship’s bow, which protrudes underneath the water, punctured the steel armor of the ship, opening a hole into the quarters where more than 100 sailors slept.
Emergency hatches were closed on the compromised berthing compartments to stop the ship from sinking.
Now it’s suspected that some of the seven men who died aboard the ship were locked in those rooms as they were flooded.
Navy ship struck during autopilot:
It’s believed the Crystal may have struck the Fitzgerald while it was on autopilot, causing its protruding underwater bow to punch through the Navy ship’s hull, in turn causing water to pour into the berths were 100 men slept.
Mentality important during crucial situations:
David Dykhoff, a retired Navy captain, told that ‘The mentality is that you’re going to fight any catastrophes, any casualties, where they occur and preserve the rest of the ship.’
‘And I guarantee that anybody would do everything they could.’
However Stanley Rehm, the uncle of Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr – one of the seven men lost in the crash – claims his nephew had to be sacrificed to save the rest of the crew.
Bodies of seven soldiers head home:
The US Navy says the bodies of the seven American sailors killed in the collision have headed home.
The remains of the crew members – who were aged from 19 to 37 – were found by Navy divers after the warship returned to Yokosuka, Japan, home to the Navy’s 7th fleet.
The bodies left Tokyo on a flight on Tuesday.
The Navy said the three sailors who were injured in the collision have been released from a Navy hospital.
Hero rescues 20 colleagues:
Gary Rehm, 37, rescued more than a dozen of his colleagues as the waters flooded in, and had gone down again to search for more when the hatch was shut on him.
‘His dad told me that he saved 20,’ Stanley said. ‘He went back down to where the other ones were at to save them.’
‘The ship was flooding so fast they had to close the hatch to save the ship,’ Stanley said. ‘They had to sacrifice the few to save the many. Guess he died a hero.’
The Fitzgerald’s captain, Bryce Benson, was asleep when the collision occurred at 1:30am, but survived the horrific incident.
He was airlifted to hospital after the accident, and was reportedly in stable condition on Saturday. In total three sailors were injured; all have since been released from a Navy hospital.
Autopilot blamed for loss of lives:
One defense expert suggested that the collision occurred simply because nobody on the Crystal was there to see it happen.
‘I suspect, from the data, that the ACX Crystal was running on autopilot the whole time, and nobody was on the bridge,’ Steffan Watkins, an IT security consultant and ship tracking analyst for Janes Intelligence Review, told on Monday.
‘If anyone was on the bridge, they had no idea how to turn off the autopilot.’
Staff shortage issue crops up:
The Filipino-crewed cargo ship T-boned the Navy vessel while the Fitzgerald’s captain was asleep – though he survived. It’s believed the Crystal’s bridge may not have been properly staffed.
The Crystal’s protruding bow punctured the hull of the Fitzgerald, and emergency hatches were closed to stop the ship sinking as seawater poured in – but were sailors left to drown behind those hatches?
Tracking data released:
According to the tracking data, 15 minutes after the presumed 1.30am collision with the Fitzgerald, the ship righted its course and increased speed, adjusting for the change in course the collision had made.
‘This is, to me, proof that a computer was driving,’ Watkins said. ‘No captain shakes off a collision with a US Navy Destroyer and resumes course so perfectly.’
Questions also remain about why – as shown in multiple GPS trackers – the cargo ship sailed on for seven miles and thirty minutes before turning around to help the stricken Navy vessel.
The Crystal also didn’t notify officials about the collision until 55 minutes after it occurred, at around 2:25am.
Having no-one at the helm of the cargo ship would explain why it took so long for the Crystal to react.
It’s also possible that because the 30,000-ton cargo ship dramatically outweighed the 8,000-ton destroyer, it shoved the boat out of the way without anyone aboard realizing.
Experts have also speculated about why the USS Fitzgerald and its skeleton crew were struck on its starboard side – the nautical term for its right-hand side.
Under international maritime rules, the Fitzgerald would be expected to give the ACX Crystal the right of way and real-time charts appear to show the Filipino-crewed vessel was sailing on that side.
The unusual gap between the collision and the accident being reported led to some confusion among officials yesterday, as the US Navy was initially at a loss to explain why the Japanese Coast Guard said the crash occurred at 1:30am, while the Navy said it occurred at 2:25am.
On Saturday, both the US Navy and the Japanese Coast Guard said the accident occurred at 2.20am, leading to some experts theorizing that the series of unusual turns performed by the Crystal before that time may have caused the accident.
However, after interviewing the crews, the Coast Guard says the accident occurred at 1.30am and that the unusual maneuvers were the result of the Crystal returning to the scene to confirm a collision – and that is why it reported the accident at 2.20am.
Nanami Meguro, a spokeswoman for owners NYK Line told that one reason why the Crystal did not report the accident when it first happened may have been because it was all hands on deck.
‘Because it was in an emergency, the crewmembers may not have been able to place a call,’ she said.
Multiple US and Japanese investigations are underway to determine how a ship as large as the container could collide with the smaller warship in clear weather, said coastguard spokesman Takeshi Aikawa.
Scott Cheney-Peters, division officer aboard the Fitzgerald from 2006-2008, suggested the accident was down to human error.
‘There’s a lot that can go wrong even when the bridge team on one or both ships is doing everything it can to avoid a collision. It’s too early to speculate on the exact circumstances in this case, so this is only to help understand the context,’ he said.
‘The first thing to remember is the physics – ships can carry an immense amount of momentum with them given their size.
‘Every time two ships approach each other at sea they rely on codified rules of the road to govern how they perform their delicate dance.’
‘But making sure they get the steps right depends on a shared understanding of the situation – which can be more difficult at night – and failing that, communication.’
The US Navy, the Japanese authorities, and Crystal’s owners, NYK, have declined to comment on aspects of the ongoing investigation. An explanation has also not been offered as to why the Fitzgerald did not see the Crystal coming, and vice versa.
According to Japanese law, suspects in criminal proceedings such as these can be held for at least 23 days without charge and or access to lawyers.
The coast guard has declined to confirm if they were still questioning the crew and captain in Yokohama, where the Crystal is now berthed.
The Crystal was built in South Korea and registered in Japan, but its crew and captain are all from the Philippines.
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Source: Daily Mail