Tokyo (AFP) - Thousands of flag-waving mourners lined the streets of a US naval base in Japan Tuesday where a memorial service was held for seven sailors killed in a collision with a cargo ship this month.
The facility in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, is the home port of destroyer USS Fitzgerald, which crashed with a cargo ship in a busy shipping channel off Japan's coast.
The sailors' relatives, some 300 shipmates on the guided-missile destroyer and US military officials attended the service, as a probe into the cause of the deadly accident continues.
The solemn gathering was closed to media. Pictures and video supplied by the navy showed sailors folding US flags with photographs of the seven dead hanging above them. Wreaths with red, white and blue flowers, representing the colour of the US flag, lay on a stage below their pictures.
Before the ceremony, more than 2,000 people including members of the US Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force lined the streets inside the base waving flags and saluting the crew and their relatives, the navy said in a statement.
"It?s stunning, absolutely stunning, while we mourn the loss of the seven sailors, that more were not lost, and it was the heroism of the entire crew that ensured that was the case," US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift said, according to the statement.
"There was no understanding of what had happened at the moment of impact. But there was complete understanding of what needed to be done.
"Every time we go to sea, the ship is our sanctuary and all sailors have to come together as a crew and fight their ship, and that is exactly what Fitzgerald did."
Investigators have been analysing exactly what happened in the early hours of June 17, when the warship collided with the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal in a busy channel not far from Yokosuka, a gateway to container ports in Tokyo and nearby Yokohama.
The sailors, aged 19 to 37, were found by divers in flooded sleeping berths a day after the collision tore a huge gash in the side of the Fitzgerald.
Other crew fought to contain the flooding with the missing men's whereabouts unknown. Part of the ship's right side was caved in by the crash.
Japanese investigators have interviewed the Filipino crew of the 222-metre (730-foot) cargo ship, while the US authorities are also probing the incident.
Rear Admiral Brian Fort has been appointed to lead the US investigation, the navy has said.
There have been around 30 ship collisions over the past decade in the area, including a 2013 incident in which six Japanese crew died, according to the Japan Coast Guard.
Adding to the questions surrounding the crash, ACX Crystal's crew -- who were not injured -- apparently took nearly an hour to report the collision.
Authorities are also investigating why the cargo ship made a sudden turn at about 1:30 am, and a sharp turn after it reported the accident around 2:20 am.