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Seven Missing U.S. Sailors Found Dead. Aired 1-1:30a ET

Aired June 18, 2017 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news this hour out of Japan. Seven U.S. sailors, reported missing after a collision at sea some 36 hours ago, are dead. That's according to a U.S. Navy official.

We're awaiting for a news conference to begin very shortly, perhaps any moment now and hopefully we'll learn more then. Here's what we know for the moment.

The seven sailors were found in the flooded berthing compartments of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. The warship was severely damaged in the collision and it was then towed to Yokosuka, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet.

It collided with this Philippine flag merchant ship -- you saw just a second ago -- on Saturday -- here it is, the ACX Crystal. None of the crew on the merchant ship were reported to be injured. The bodies of the Fitzgerald sailors are being transferred to a naval hospital for identification and their families are being notified.

We know, after the collision, three sailors were medically evacuated -- you see the medevacs there -- including the ship's commanding officer. They were reportedly in stable condition after that.

Both Japan and the U.S. sent ships and aircraft to the collision site to search for the missing sailors but since then they have been found and confirmed dead. And they were found inside the ship.

A Defense official tells CNN the Navy will announce an investigation into the collision to find out exactly how it could have happened. We're expecting the Navy to give a news conference shortly to address these latest developments, give us more information. We'll bring you that live coverage as soon as it happens.

For now, I'm joined by journalist Kaori Enjoji. She's in Tokyo. She's been covering this with us.

Kaori, what's the latest? KAORI ENJOJI, JOURNALIST: Well, some -- a day and a half has passed since this major collision involving U.S. warship the U.S.S. Fitzgerald and 36 hours on, the collision has turned into a tragedy, a tragedy involving seven sailors, who were found dead in the compartment of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.

The rescue operation had been going on for hours, into the night as well as they tried to search for the seven missing sailors who were aboard this warship. And earlier on this morning here, Japan time, the U.S. Navy has confirmed that they did find the bodies of the seven missing sailors in the berthing compartment.

That would be the living quarters for many of the seamen who were on board. More than 300 of them onboard the U.S.S. Fitzgerald. We are currently waiting to hear from the U.S. Navy, as to how this incident unfolded, right off the coast of the Izu Peninsula here in Japan, how it could have happened and what is going to happen from here on.

They tell us that an investigation will be launched. But we are -- there's still a lot of questions to be answered as to how this collision could have happened. But right now, a sense of tragedy, I think, Cyril, that the seven missing sailors have been found and their bodies have been found.

They have been taken to a medical hospital, a naval hospital, on the base in Yokosuka which, of course, is the home to the 7th Fleet.

The incident came in the middle of the night, at 2:30 local time am, and involved, of course, this warship, which was one of the most technologically advanced that the U.S. fleet has in this area. It's equipped with Aegis radars and it collided with a commercial vessel that was moving along the coast of Japan from Nagoya to the port of Tokyo.

And this collision happened in the middle of the night. We don't know how it happened or how it could have happened and -- but we do know that this area that both of these ships were passing through during the night is a very, very congested lane.

It is predominantly the area that ships use to get to the docks, the ports, in Tokyo --

(CROSSTALK)

VANIER: All right, Kaori, just -- Kaori, just let me just interrupt you for a second, Kaori Enjoji. Let's listen to the vice admiral, Joseph Aucoin, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

VICE ADMIRAL JOSEPH AUCOIN, COMMANDER, U.S. 7TH FLEET: I will facilitate the questions and answers so please look towards me. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So, good afternoon. Konichiwa. I'm Joe Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet. Thanks for coming out here today. It gives me an opportunity to talk to you. We do have a number of Japanese journalists with us, so we're going to do translation and pause for a second.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

[01:05:00]

AUCOIN: So I just want to start. I got a couple of prepared remarks and then I'll open it up for questions.

As some of you know, yesterday the Fitzgerald experienced extensive damage and flooding as a result of a collision with a Filipino merchant ship at approximately 0220 in the morning, 17 June, 10 miles off the coast of Honshu, Japan, approximately 56 miles south of Tokyo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: The damage was significant. This was not a small collision. It was right near the pilot's house and there is a big puncture, a big gash, underneath the waterline also.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So the ship suffered a lot of damage. Three compartments were severely damaged, one machinery room and two berthing areas that -- berthing areas for 116 of the crew and also the ship -- or the ship's skipper's cabin as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So this was a severe emergency but the ship's crew was swift and responsive. And I can't tell you how proud I am of the crew for what they did to save the ship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So due to the heroic efforts of the ship's crew, they prevented the ship from foundering or even sinking last night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So they were able to save the ship and they were able to bring it back yesterday on its own power, back here to Yokosuka, and you can see the ship behind me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So the ship and the crew, they performed, as we expected, very professionally. They were able to bring the ship back.

The ship is called the "Fighting Fitz." It's named after a lieutenant during the Vietnam War, that was awarded the Navy Cross for his valor during the Vietnam War.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese). AUCOIN: So we owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened. Under my authority, we will launch a JAGMAN investigation into this collision. I will appoint a flag officer to lead that investigation and there will also be a safety investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

[01:10:00]

AUCOIN: The U.S. Coast Guard is to take the lead on the marine casualty investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: And we recognize there are other organizations that have vested interests in this incident and we expect them to conduct their own separate investigations. And more information will be forthcoming on those investigations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: And I'm not going to speculate on how long those investigations will take.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: As you're aware, we have found a number -- the remains of a number of our missing shipmates and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those shipmates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So out of concern for the families and the notification process, I will not decline -- I will decline to state how many we have found at this time. We owe it to the families and friends of these shipmates and hope you can respect this process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So we will update you after the notification process is complete.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: The -- we have transferred the remains to the Yokosuka Naval Hospital. The families are being notified and are being provided the support they all need at this difficult time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So their loved ones are what make our Navy great. The strength of my fleet are my people, so this loss is something we all feel. The names of the deceased will be released soon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese). AUCOIN: So unfortunately, we don't have the details regarding the conditions during the final moments but hope that the investigation may shed some light on that matter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: At the same time, I really would like to express my heartfelt thanks to our Japanese allies, particularly the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force, with their tremendous support.

They were with us the whole time and they really helped us out a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: Also the Japanese Coast Guard helped us a lot with their helicopters and they were the first on the scene.

We had to medevac the commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson, who was medevacked back to the hospital by a JMSDF helicopter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: We also had to medevac two other sailors with minor injuries and they were medevacked via helicopter back to the Navy Yokosuka Hospital and they are still there undergoing treatment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

[01:15:00]

AUCOIN: Since this started, we've set up a U.S.S. Fitzgerald Emergency Family Assistance Center within hours and we've disseminated the phone numbers, with hotlines, through social media and Navy websites, for all the families here and also back in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So this support center remains open for chaplain and counselor care. It's 24/7 and it's over -- located on our base at the Family Support Center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: But to be clear, my focus is on the families, the grieving family members, the crew and the friends of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: I wish you could have seen it last night when the ship came back. The whole Navy family came together. We had tremendous support, from everyone within the base, from the Fleet Activities Yokosuka, to the MWR, USO, Red Cross, from the embassy, from the JMSDF, from the Japanese Coast Guard.

It was really gratifying and heartfelt, the response we got from everyone, to rally around our ship upon its return.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So I ask you to keep thoughts and prayers for the family members and the crew.

And please, respect their privacy as we work through this, as we get answers to some of the questions I'm sure that are out there, with the investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

AUCOIN: So the next update will be at 6:00 pm.

Thank you for coming out here and I'll answer questions from you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

QUESTION: Vice Admiral, thank you for doing this briefing; two quick questions. Firstly, the damage was sustained on the starboard side of the Fitzgerald. There's some speculation that would indicate that it was at fault; in this case, based on the maritime procedures, where ships (INAUDIBLE) with the other ship on the starboard side is supposed to give way.

Can you comment on that?

And secondly, will you be giving the Japanese investigation access to the crew of the Fitzgerald?

AUCOIN: Yes, you know, I'm not going to speculate on what happened but it will be a full and thorough investigation.

But for me to say what happened at 2:20 in the morning yesterday, unknown. So we're going to appoint a flag officer. We're going to cooperate with all the stakeholders in this, especially the Japanese. But we will -- we'll get those answers. I don't have them right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) if you want to translate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

[01:20:00]

AUCOIN: I would just add, too, you're right. It's on the right side of the ship, so you can't see it from here. But it was extensive damage. You can tell from the way the ship is listing that it was significant.

And, really, I'm proud of the crew, how they reacted and were able to save the ship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here, Kyoto Toshi (ph).

English or Japanese, you can do whatever you want.

QUESTION: Thank you for this opportunity. You said you're launching the investigation.

Does that mean you are going to decide the right of our jurisdiction given to you by the agreement between the Japanese and the U.S. government?

And that means you are not going to let Japanese Coast Guard lead the investigation -- is that right?

AUCOIN: I'm not -- there will be a number of investigations. I know, under my authority, I'm going to do a JAGMAN investigation -- that's a Judge Advocate General Manual Investigation -- and then appoint a flag officer. There's at least two other investigations.

And of course, we want to cooperate with the Japanese if they want to do an investigation. We will work hand in hand with our Japanese partners.

QUESTION: You might allow Japanese Coast Guard to interview some sailors?

AUCOIN: Yes, we will cooperate fully.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

QUESTION: This is Tim Kelly from Reuters. You say the damage is significant. The ship was (INAUDIBLE).

So is the ship salvageable and will you scrap it?

Or would you, if the repairs are undertaken, are we talking weeks, months, years?

Can you give us some indication?

AUCOIN: Yes, you know what, Tim, the damage is significant. Right now, the focus is on the crew and the families.

The ship is salvageable. It's extensive, though. It will require some significant repairs. But you will see the U.S.S. Fitzgerald back as one of our warships here. But it will require some time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Translation.

QUESTION: It will take months?

Over a year maybe?

AUCOIN: I think it will take months, hopefully under a year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NHK here.

QUESTION (through translator): So, thank you very much for having this press conference.

The sailors who were missing, do we know where they are yet?

Have you found anything of the ones who are still missing?

AUCOIN: Yes, we have. But I'm not going to go, because we want to, out of respect for the families, as far as identification, notifying next of kin, we have found a number of our missing shipmates. But I'm not going to go into the exact numbers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

[01:25:00]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, right here.

QUESTION: Thank you, I'm from "The Washington Post."

Can you tell us how many bridge crews were on duty at the time of the collision, please?

And was all the navigational equipment working correctly?

AUCOIN: I don't have the exact number of the crew but I'm sure they had a full complement, what's normally expected during a watch. And you know, I -- as far as to the systems and all that, we're going to do an investigation to find out what exactly happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Japanese).

VANIER: All right. We've been listen to the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, briefing us from Yokosuka, the base of the fleet in Japan, some 36 hours after a U.S. destroyer collided with a Filipino merchant ship off the coast of Japan.

Of note in that brief, the commander is not confirming the number of sailors who were found in the hull of the ship.

Let's go to Kaori Enjoji.

Kaori, a lot of questions were raised during that briefing; not that many specific answers, though.

ENJOJI: That's right, Cyril. This is the first time since the accident occurred 36 hours ago that someone from the 7th Fleet is meeting the press. And a vice admiral, Joseph Aucoin, addressing the press and explaining severe damage, what he called significant damage that was incurred as a result of this collision to the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.

We all want to know what happened during this collision. He would only say, as you pointed out, that they found the remains of the missing sailors but the vice admiral would not say and would not confirm how many of the missing sailors were found in this rescue mission. However, CNN has been reporting throughout the morning that the U.S.

Defense official has confirmed that the seven missing are dead. He went on to explain that the incident occurred at 2:20 am local time in the middle of the night.

There was excessive damage and flooding to three main areas under the waterline, that you would not be able to see in these pictures. You're seeing most of the damage above the waterline.

But as the vice admiral said, the significant damage was below the surface, in three compartments in particular that he mentioned; one, the machinery area and two of the berthing areas, berthing areas where they are living quarters for the seamen on board.

And he explained that 116 crew members were sleeping in those two berthing areas.

He also went to explain that there was significant damage to an area near the pilot's house. There's a big gash, he said, under the waterline near that area and the skip's cabin as well was severely damaged as a result of this collision.

He also announced that there will be a formal investigation being launched, what he called a JAGMAN investigation, and acknowledged that there may be other investigations ongoing in parallel with that, including, of course, by the Japanese Coast Guard as well.

They did not say how long the investigation will take but he did say there will be a news conference, another one, later this afternoon at 6:00 pm local -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes. That's in about three hours.

Kaori Enjoji, thank you very much, giving us the latest on that press briefing by the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, in Yokosuka, speaking some 36 hours after that collision between the U.S. destroyer and a Filipino merchant ship that killed seven sailors.

All right. We're going to take a short break. "IN 24 HOURS" is next and we'll keep bringing you the latest on this story as soon as we get the information here at CNN. Stay with us.