US Navy probes destroyer crash that killed seven in Japan

The damaged USS Fitzgerald is seen near the US Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2017
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US Navy probes destroyer crash that killed seven in Japan

TOKYO: A probe into the crash between a US navy destroyer and a Philippine-flagged cargo ship was under way Monday, as the names of seven American sailors who died were made public.
Investigators were looking at how the USS Fitzgerald came to be holed in the smash in a busy shipping lane near its home port.
The container ship, the 222-meter Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal, made a 180 degree turn shortly before the accident, according to data from the Marine Traffic website. It was not immediately clear what prompted the sharp turn.
The US Navy and Japan’s coast guard are conducting separate inquiries, but will likely be co-operating, a spokesman for Japan’s transport safety board said.
Japanese coast guard investigators will be interviewing the Filipino crew of the Japanese-owned container ship, although the US has primary jurisdiction in investigating accidents involving military.
Citing local investigators, Japan’s top-selling Yomiuri newspaper said Monday that the damage on both ships suggests they were traveling in the same direction when the crash occurred, 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka.
The impact tore a huge gash in the Fitzgerald, sending gallons of water flooding into the berths where the crew were sleeping.
The bodies of the sailors, who were aged between 19 and 37, were recovered by navy divers after their 154-meter vessel limped into port.
The huge commercial vessel came into Yokosuka with large scrapes on its bow, but none of its 20 crew were injured.
Japan’s coast guard is also investigating why it took nearly an hour before the Philippine ship reported the collision, a coast guard spokesman said.
“We had first announced that the collision occurred at 2:20 am, based on the initial report from the Philippine ship, but we have now changed it to 1:30 am after directly hearing from the crew,” the spokesman said.
“We are checking what happened during the time and why the report was delayed,” he added.
There have been around 30 boat crashes over the past decade in the area, including a 2013 incident when six Japanese crew died after their cargo ship crashed with another vessel in the early morning hours, a coast guard spokesman said.
“That’s considered a lot of accidents,” he said, adding that many ships pass through the channel in the middle of the night to be on time for morning cargo pick-ups.
“There are all kinds of ships navigating those waters.”
Under maritime law, the container ship had an obligation to avoid a collision if it was trying to overtake the destroyer from behind.
But if the container vessel was approaching from the US ship’s right side, the destroyer had the obligation to give way, another Japanese coast guard spokesman said.
“Generally speaking, if a ship sees another vessel on its right hand side it has the obligation to avoid” a collision, he added.
Investigators are sure to put the vessels’ trackable movements under a microscope to figure out what set the deadly crash in motion, said Shoji Fujimoto, a maritime safety expert at Japan’s Kobe University.
“Probably the bulbous bow of the container ship, which is below the waterline, crashed into the hull of the naval ship,” he added, referring to a protuberance at the front of some ships designed to reduce wave resistance.
“Modern-day destroyers’ hulls are made from very thin steel sheets...so they’re vulnerable in a crash.”
On Sunday, US 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin said the crew would have had little chance of escaping the “tremendous” amount of water that gushed into the ship after the accident tore open its side.
“A significant part of the crew was sleeping,” he told reporters. “There wasn’t a lot of time in spaces that were open to the sea.”
“So, it was traumatic. As to how much warning they had — I don’t know.”
Several other US crewmembers were injured in the accident and had to be evacuated by air to hospital, including the vessel’s commanding officer Bryce Benson.
He and a couple of other crewmembers have since been released from hospital.


France’s Nicolas Sarkozy loses bid to avoid influence peddling trial

Updated 19 June 2019
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France’s Nicolas Sarkozy loses bid to avoid influence peddling trial

  • Sarkozy is accused of offering to help a judge win promotion
  • Sarkozy’s lawyers have previously argued that magistrates investigating the alleged secret Libyan funding exceeded their powers

PARIS: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial for influence peddling after the country's highest court rejected his final bid to have the case thrown out, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Sarkozy is accused of offering to help a judge win promotion in return for leaked information about a separate inquiry. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
The case came about after investigators used phone-taps to examine allegations that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi funded Sarkozy’s successful campaign for the presidency in 2007.
As they eavesdropped on his calls, the investigators began to suspect the former president had offered the judge promotion in return for information on another investigation involving allegations Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for the same campaign.
Sarkozy’s lawyers have previously argued that magistrates investigating the alleged secret Libyan funding exceeded their powers and went on a “fishing expedition” by tapping his conversations between September 2013 and March 2014, breaching lawyer-client privilege.
He was cleared over the Bettencourt allegations.
On Wednesday, his defence team said the use in this case of wiretapped remarks gleaned in relation to a different investigation contravened a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
"These legal issues are still relevant," Sarkozy lawyer Jacqueline Laffont said. "It will be for the court to decide whether a French court can override a decision of the European Court of Human Rights."
Wednesday's ruling that the trial proceed came from the 'Cour de Cassation', which decides whether an earlier decision by an appeals court conforms with French law.