Seven sailors missing
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is seen next to a tugboat (R) off Shimoda, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo June 17, 2017. Reuters

Seven sailors went missing and three were injured after a US Navy destroyer collided with with a Philippine-flagged container ship off central Japan early on Saturday, local media reported.

The collision between the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal took place southwest of Yokosuka, Japan at about 2.30 am on Saturday (1.30 am, Singapore time) about 100 kilometers southwest of Yokosuka, the US Navy and Japan's coastguard said.

A statement issued by the Commander of the US Navy's 7th Fleet at 10.12 am (9.12 am, Singapore time) said three were injured, with two personnel requiring medical evacuation.

"One was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald's commanding officer, who was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka and is reportedly in stable condition. A second MEDEVAC is in progress. Other injured are being assessed," added the statement. "There are seven sailors unaccounted for; the ship and the Japanese Coast Guard continue to search for them."

The Japanese coastguard said it was looking for the seven missing crew based on information it had received from the US Navy. "We are currently searching for the missing individuals," a coastguard spokesman said. They also confirmed that another crew member had sustained serious injuries.

US Navy
An injured crew member of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged after colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is carried on a stretcher after arriving at the U. S. naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Japan June 17, 2017. Reuters

Earlier, the US chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson said on Twitter: "As more information is learnt we will be sure to share it with the Fitzgerald families. All of our thoughts and concerns are with the Fitzgerald crew and their families."

The spokesman said the Japanese coastguard has sent five vessels, two planes and a team of specially trained rescue personnel to the area.

A video that was taken by Japan's public broadcaster NHK showed heavy damage to the starboard side of the Fitzgerald just ahead of the control tower, and that the ship had taken on water. Meanwhile, the footage also showed relatively light damage on the port bow of the ACX Crystal.

"The USS Fitzgerald suffered damage on her starboard side above and below the waterline. The collision resulted in some flooding," the Navy said. However, it was not clear how the collision happened. "Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed," the 7th Fleet spokesman said.

The Navy said the Fitzgerald was still under its own power "although her propulsion was limited."

A US defence official told AFP that "sailors are de-watering" flooded areas of the ship. "Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors," Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet said. "We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance."

The 154-metre (505-foot) Fitzgerald is based at Yokosuka, south of Yokohama and Tokyo, and operates in the Pacific and the Sea of Japan. In February, the ship, part of an eight-ship squadron based in Yokosuka, had completed US$21 million worth of upgrades and repairs.

The ACX Crystal is a 222-metre commercial container ship that, according to marine tracking websites, was on its way to Tokyo. The ship carries a Philippine flag but is listed as owned by Japanese shipping giant NYK Line.