A number of the seven US Navy sailors missing after a collision between a destroyer and a container ship have been found dead, the Seventh Fleet said.

The sailors were found in the berthing compartments of the ship that flooded after the collision, which occurred on Saturday.

The container ship appeared to have hit the Aegis class destroyer almost square on, severely damaging the berthing compartments where the sailors were sleeping. Yoko Kato, a spokeswoman for the US Navy in Yokosuka, said not all seven were recovered. She didn't say how many were found.

They were found after the Fitzgerald returned to its home port at Yokosuka and search and rescue crews were able to enter the ship.

Advertisement

The sailors' bodies have been taken to the naval hospital on the Yokosuka base to be identified.

Civilian and military investigators tried to figure out how the night-time collision between two vessels - both with advanced navigation systems - could have occurred. "This has been a difficult day," Vice-Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Seventh Fleet, said.

The Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged Crystal, nearly four times its size. The weather was clear with a swell of about 1.8m at the time.

- Washington Post, DPA