Washington (AFP) - The commander of a US Navy ship that collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off Japan, killing seven American seamen, will be relieved of duty and several other sailors face punishment, a senior admiral said Thursday.
Among those being disciplined from the crew of the USS Fitzgerald are its commanding officer, executive officer and senior enlisted sailor, who will all be relieved of their duties aboard the ship, said Admiral Bill Moran, the vice chief of naval operations.
"They will be detached from the ship for cause, which (means) we've lost trust and confidence for their ability to lead in those positions and they will not return to the ship," Moran told reporters.
Seven sailors drowned in their sleeping berth when the USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal in a busy shipping channel off Japan's coast early on June 17.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, who heads the Navy's 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan has notified one sailor of his or her punishment and the rest would likely be informed by the end of Friday.
About a dozen sailors are expected to be disciplined in total.
"If it's clear to (Aucoin) that some members of that crew should no longer be doing this line of work, it's time to move them on, it's time to take accountability actions," Moran said.
Moran said the sailors could face further punishments later one, depending on the outcome of various ongoing probes.
"I'm not telling they will or they won't. It's just we are not done with the investigation," Moran said.
- 'Heroic' actions -
Aged 19 to 37, the drowned seamen were found by divers in flooded sleeping quarters a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the side of the Fitzgerald.
Moran spoke to Pentagon reporters just as the Navy released findings from a preliminary inquiry into what happened in the immediate aftermath of the crash.
The report found that all seven victims died in the line of duty and their deaths were not due to any misconduct on their part.
Investigators praised the quick-thinking and "heroic" actions of sailors who worked to save shipmates, one of whom had to be dragged from his bunk in a flooding sleeping area as waters quickly rose.
One sailor who was rescued moments before he would have drowned reported that "when taking his final breath before being saved, he was already submerged and breathed in water."
Additionally, the report describes how the ship's commanding officer was injured when the merchant ship Crystal struck his cabin, trapping him inside.
Fellow sailors had to smash and pry his door open before retrieving the commander, who was "hanging from the side of the ship. The officer was eventually medically evacuated by helicopter.
Moran praised the actions of the drowned sailors. The last of them to be buried was laid to rest Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.