Investigators suspect that the Philippines-flagged cargo ship that crashed into the USS Fitzgerald was on autopilot.
The pre-dawn collision between the US Navy destroyer and the ACX Crystal cargo ship caused the death of seven sailors, including Filipino-American Carlos Victor Sibayan.
The claim was made by a defence official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity. He said that five of the seven victims were ‘incapacitated’ instantly, as the bow of the Crystal collapsed the berthing area where they were sleeping.
He said that the other two sailors may have died while trying to rescue their crew mates. The remains of all seven were recovered from the flooded area of the ship.
He also suggested that it may never be known whether the order to seal the hatch to the flooded compartment came while the two sailors were still alive.
Meanwhile, Japanese investigators have recovered a data recorder from the ACX Crystal, which is owned by a Japanese firm.
“By analysing the data, we should be able to determine the circumstances of how it crashed,” Transport Safety Board spokesman Katsunori Takahashi said.
The board is focusing on the cause of the collision and the lessons to be learned, while Japan’s coast guard is investigating any possible professional negligence.
US Navy and Coast Guard officials are investigating the destroyer at its home port, Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo.
Rear Admiral Brian Fort, who was named on Friday, June 23, to lead the Navy’s investigation, is a former commander of a squadron of six destroyers.
Earlier this week, a defence expert claimed there was nobody on the bridge of the cargo ship when it struck the USS Fitzgerald.
Speaking to dailymail.com, Steffan Watkins, an IT security consultant and ship tracking analyst for Janes Intelligence Review, said: “I suspect, from the data, that the ACX Crystal was running on autopilot the whole time, and nobody was on the bridge. If anyone was on the bridge, they had no idea how to turn off the autopilot.”