June 18, 2017 3:32 pm JST

Navy stops search for 7 missing sailors after bodies found

Journalists observe the damaged USS Fitzgerald at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo on June 18. © AP

YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) -- The U.S. Navy ended search and rescue efforts for the seven sailors missing after their destroyer collided with a merchant ship in waters off Japan and a number of bodies were found Sunday in flooded compartments, including sleeping quarters.

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin addressed reporters at a Navy base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, but wouldn't say how many bodies were recovered, pending notification of next of kin.

The USS Fitzgerald sustained significant damage after a collision with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship on Saturday around 2:20 a.m. Aucion paid tribute to the crew's efforts to save their ship, saying they prevented it from sinking.

The bodies were found by Navy divers Sunday, a day after it returned to the base in Yokosuka with the help of tug boats.

Aucoin said 116 crew members were in two berthing rooms, most of them likely resting at the time of the collision. The skipper, who was injured in the head and airlifted to shore, was also in his room resting, Aucoin said, adding that he was lucky to have survived. The Navy said earlier the ship had about 300 crew on board.

Apart from the berthing spaces, a machinery room and the radio room also were damaged and began taking in water after the destroyer was rammed mid-right side. Aucoin said the crash left a big hole below the water line.

Those who did not survive might have killed by the impact of the crash or drowned by the flooding, said Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newell, who led reporters for a first look at the mangled vessel.

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