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Missing sailors' bodies found in damaged USS Fitzgerald

Sea and air search continues at collision site off Japan's coast between USS Fitzgerald and a merchant ship on Saturday.

The bodies of several US sailors who were missing after a US navy ship collided with a container vessel in the busy sea off the coast of Japan, have been found inside the damaged ship, according to the US navy.

The collision happened early on Saturday when most of the 200 crew on board the USS Fitzgerald were asleep.

Seven US crew members were reported missing following the incident, which occurred south of Tokyo Bay.

Yoko Kato, a spokeswoman for the US navy, said divers had gained access to spaces that were damaged during the collision and found a number of bodies.

She said, however, that not all seven missing sailors had been accounted for.

Japan's coastguard officials said the sea and air search was still continuing at the site of the collision, 56 nautical miles (103km) southwest of Yokosuka, which is home to the US Seventh Fleet.

The Japanese coastguard also said none of the 20 crew members on board the ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel that collided with the Fitzgerald, were wounded.

The navy said that the families of those who were found were being notified and provided the support they need during "this difficult time."

The names of the sailors will be released after all notifications are made.

At least three other crew members, including the captain, were injured in the crash, which damaged two berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room and exposed a mangled mid-right side of the ship.

It was not clear how extensive the damage was below the water line.

"This has been a difficult day," Joseph P Aucoin, the commander of the Seventh Fleet, said before the announcement that the bodies had been found.

"I am humbled by the bravery and tenacity of the Fitzgerald crew. Now that the ship is in Yokosuka, I ask that you help the families by maintaining their privacy as we continue the search for our shipmates."

'Very bizzare' 

It was unclear how the collision happened. "Once an investigation is complete then any legal issues can be addressed," the US navy said.

Speaking from Tokyo on Saturday, Michael Penn, a journalist with the Shingetsu news agency said it was "very bizarre" that such an incident had happened.

"The US navy ship is an Aegis destroyer, which has one of the most sophisticated radars in existence. So how such a ship was taken unaware and rammed by a merchant ship is very bizarre," Penn said.

The waterways approaching Tokyo Bay are busy with commercial vessels sailing to and from Japan's two biggest container ports in Tokyo and Yokohama.

Japan's public broadcaster NHK showed aerial footage of the destroyer, which had a large dent in its right, or starboard, side. Images broadcast by NHK showed it had been struck next to its Aegis radar arrays behind its vertical missile launch tubes.

In May, the US navy's USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel, but both ships were able to operate under their own power.

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