UPDATE: The US Navy confirmed late Saturday the bodies of the some of missing sailors have been found inside the damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald.
The Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement Saturday night that search and rescue crews located the missing sailors in the flooded berthing compartments that were damaged during the collision.
The bodies were being transferred to Naval Hospital Yokosuka for identification, the statement said.
The names of the sailors will be released after families are notified.
The Navy, with the help of Japanese defense officials, searched on Saturday for the seven missing sailors after a naval destroyer was involved in a collision with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel operating off the coast of Japan.
Crew members from the destroyer USS Dewey were helping stabilize the flooding to the USS Fitzgerald, as Japanese Coast Guard took the lead in the search for the missing sailors.
U.S. aircraft as well as Japanese helicopters were dispatched to help assist the search effort.
"Right now we are focused on two things: the safety of the ship and the well-being of the Sailors," said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement earlier on Saturday. "We thank our Japanese partners for their assistance."
The collision badly damaged Fitzgerald's forward starboard side above and below the water line, causing significant damage and associated flooding to two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room, which sailors quickly began dewatering.
It is still unclear how long it will take for search divers can gain access to the spaces. Footage from the Japanese TV network NHK showed Navy crew members working to pump water from flooded sections of the crushed mid-right side of the USS Fitzgerald.
In addition to the missing, at least three other sailors—including the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were injured and required medical evacuation, according to the Navy’s 7th Fleet. Benson was taken to the U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka. The other two sailors who suffered lacerations and bruises. Others injured were treated on the destroyer.
Nippon Yusen K.K., the Japanese company operating the merchant vessel, said the 20 member Filipino crew aboard the ship was safe. Aerial images aired on Japanese television appeared to show the bow on its left side was dented but the vessel did not appear to have any major damage.
It’s unclear what caused the collision, which occurred about 2:20 a.m. local time, between the destroyer and the container ship that is about four times its size. Conditions at the time were clear, though the area—about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka is often busy with sea traffic.
Relatives of the sailors were awaiting word about their loved ones. Relatives of crew members were awaiting news of their loved ones. Rita Schrimsher, of Athens, Alabama, told the Associated Press that she was relieved after speaking with her 23-year-old grandson Jackson Schrimsher .
“It could have been worse so we’re grateful,” she said.
© 2017 USA TODAY