Navy admiral: Fitzgerald incident ‘could have been much worse’

Navy admiral: Fitzgerald incident ‘could have been much worse’
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The damage to a Navy destroyer that collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan "could have been much worse" if not for emergency efforts by the crew, the Navy's Seventh Fleet Commander said Sunday.

"The crew's response was swift and effective, and I want to point out — as we stand by the ship — how proud I am of them," Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin said during a news conference.

"Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink," he added. "It could have been much worse."

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He said Sunday that he would appoint a flag officer to lead an investigation into the collision, though it was not clear how long the probe is expected to last. 

The early Saturday morning collision with a Philippines-flagged merchant ship caused extensive damage to the USS Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer, and left seven of its crew members unaccounted for.

A number of those sailors were found after the ship was towed to Yokosuka Naval Base and rescue workers gained access to flooded parts of the vessel. Aucoin declined to say how many of the crew members were found.

"Out of concern for the families and the notification process, I will decline to state how many we have found at this time," he said. "We owe that to the families and friends of these shipmates and hope you can respect this process."