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U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Describes Damage to Ship; French Elections. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired June 18, 2017 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Seven U.S. sailors are found dead after a destroyer collided with a massive cargo ship off Japan's coast. The U.S. Navy is launching investigations.

And in France, polls are now open for parliamentary elections. We are introducing you to some of the new faces in French politics.

Thank you for joining us, everyone, I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.


VANIER: We have breaking news this hour out of Japan. Search and rescue efforts are over after an American warship collided with a merchant vessel on Saturday. A U.S. Navy official tells CNN that seven sailors reported missing from the U.S.S. Fitzgerald are dead.

But at a news conference the commander of the U.S. 7th fleet declined to confirm that number. The bodies were reportedly discovered in the flooded berthing compartments the ship. The collision occurred near Yokosuka and the Navy is promising an investigation to find out the circumstances of the collision.

Alexandra Field was at the news conference. She's with us from Yokosuka.

Alexandria, what more did we learn?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cyril, the ship is back at the port now, it's just behind me. The damage is severe and we're told it's much worse than what meets the eye. You can see the damage on the other side of the ship, on the starboard side. That's the side that was hit so hard by that container ship, about three times the size of this U.S. warship.

But the commander of the 7th Fleet is saying that the most extensive damage is actually below the waterline. He's talking about the flooded compartments, particularly those sleeping compartments.

It's where about where 116 sailors can sleep for the night. It's also the spot where divers went in and swam through those flooded compartments to find the sailors, who had been reported missing since the time of this crash more than a day ago.

And just a short while ago we did hear from the commander of the 7th Fleet. He's talking about what he has learned about what those final moments were like on board as this ship was taking on water.


FIELD: Is there anything that you can share about these circumstances that those sailors were facing in those moments down in those berthing areas?

Do we know if these sailors were awake at the time of the collision?

If they were awake afterward?

If they tried to escape?

And also if you could just very briefly give us the mechanics of this crash.

Are we talking about a T-bone, a sideswiping?

Were there any calls for help in advance or any efforts to maneuver to avoid a collision from either vehicle?

VICE ADMIRAL JOSEPH AUCOIN, COMMANDER, U.S. 7TH FLEET: Thanks for your comments there. The -- so it was at 2:20 in the morning. We do have watch teams that are awake throughout the night. But a significant part of the crew was sleeping.

And as I said before, two compartments that house 116 of the crew are in those compartments. And it was a significant impact to the side of the ship. And you can't see most of the damage; the damage is mostly underneath the waterline and it's a large gash near the keel of the ship.

And so the water flow was tremendous. And so there wasn't a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea. And as you can see now, the ship is still listing. And so they had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface.

And so it was traumatic. As to how much warning they had, I don't know. That's going to be found out during the investigation. But it was a significant impact that the crew had to fight very hard to keep the ship afloat.


FIELD: Those investigations will now be getting underway. We're also learning from naval officials that the ship commander's cabin was nearly completely destroyed. The 7th Fleet commander saying that the commander of the ship is lucky to be alive.

He's one of three people who was medevacked off the ship just after that collision. We're told all three of those people are in stable condition, Cyril, but that the ship's commander is not yet in a condition to be able to answer questions about what may have gone so horribly wrong out there -- Cyril.

VANIER: Alex, what is the investigation likely to look like?

I mean, how does that happen, to determine what happened in the middle of the night?

FIELD: And frankly, Cyril, there will probably be a number of investigations. That's the word that we're hearing from naval officials. They're going to be conducting investigations. We're told there will also be a safety investigation.

The Japanese coast guard will also be conducting an investigation and they're going to have to look at all facets of this crash because, when you step back and look at the big picture, this is incomprehensible to so many people. You're talking about these huge, hulking vessels out on a heavily trafficked waterway.


FIELD: It doesn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people why these two ships would have collided. The commander here weren't able to give us many details about the mechanics of the crash itself, just saying that it was a tremendous and a very forceful blow to the side, the starboard side of that warship behind me.

That's what led to catastrophe out there on the water. And that's the question that all of these different investigations that will be going on at the same time will seek to uncover.

But at this point, very early still, the focus for much of these first hours was on the search and rescue mission and, again, the word now that the seven missing crew members' bodies have been found, all of those bodies found inside the ship itself -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes, absolutely. It's very early. We will eventually know more and the 7th Fleet did say they would brief us again in a few hours. Alexandra Field, live from Yokosuka, Japan, thank you very much.

And a short time ago I spoke with CNN military analyst, Lt. Col. Rick Francona about what we do know so far.


LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: These are below the waterline. And if you look at the damage on the ship, what we're looking at, visual to the eye, is only above the waterline. The major damage was actually done below.

The structure of these container ships has a huge bulbous hull, it's called, under the waterline and that would have struck the vessel first, doing the most damage.

Unfortunately, right in that area where it struck were the berthing compartments, the machine room, radio room and the captain's quarters, things like that. But, unfortunately, it was also where these seven crew members were


VANIER: And you can describe for us what the life of the ship is like at, say, 1:30 or 2:30 in the morning, in the middle of the night; that's when the collision happened. I'm assuming the majority of the people are sleeping and are in those berthing compartments and are therefore vulnerable.

FRANCONA: Well, yes and no. It depends on the alert status of the ship. This ship was returning from a routine deployment, heading back to its own port so they were probably in some sort of a minimum manning.

But remember, this is a U.S. Navy warship, it's on duty. So they've got a full watch complement on deck. They've got the combat information center being manned. You know, the bridge is manned. I mean, it's a full-up combat vessel of the U.S. Navy.

But they would be at a reduced posture so, yes, more of the crew would be sleeping in these berthing compartments.

VANIER: The Navy's going to conduct a detailed investigation into this, find out how this could have happened.

How do investigations like this unfold?

FRANCONA: Well, they're going to have to gather all of the information and, of course, what's going to entail is all of the navigational records, what happened when. And they're going to do this minute by minute.

And, fortunately, there are a lot of records available. The -- all of these merchant ships broadcast their position every minute to an automated information system; the Navy does the same thing. They'll get all of the navigation records and find out what happened, why those ships were able to contact.

Now this is a very busy shipping lane but there are rules of how ships pass each other. So we'll have to see which one violated whatever rule. And it's way too early to be assigning blame right now.

VANIER: No, but without assigning blame, I mean, we -- I think it's fair to be surprised that this would happen, especially a collision involving a military ship.

FRANCONA: Yes because this ship was equipped with state-of-the-art electronic sensors. It would have had to have known that ship was out there. But remember, you've got this large vessel, this commercial vessel loaded -- it's about 40,000 tons. This would be like a freight train hitting a Volkswagen.


VANIER: It's about three times as heavy as the destroyer.


FRANCONA: Easily, easily, yes. And so we have to figure out what happened, you know. Of course, this happened in the dead of night so there will be a lot of investigation. This is not going to be over soon. Everybody wants to know what happened; they want to know now. This is going to be months in the making.

VANIER: But this is the second incident in the wider region in a month. In May, last month, the U.S.S. Lake Champlain was struck by a South Korean fishing boat off the Korean Peninsula.

Does that raise questions for you that those two incidents would occur back-to-back?

FRANCONA: Actually, I would divorce the two. You know, fishing vessels, you know, operate under a different set of rules. They don't actually always operate in the shipping lanes. These two vessels were operating in designated shipping lanes, where there are very strict rules of passing.

So we'll have to see what actually happened. It's too early to really speculate.


VANIER: Let's go to France now, where polls have just opened for the second round of voting in the parliamentary elections. We've got live pictures. We've seen those before, a couple times over the last few weeks, two rounds of voting in the presidential election, now the parliamentary election.

And the party of French president Emmanuel Macron that was founded just about a year ago, La Republique En Marche, could win a historic majority in parliament and that --


VANIER: -- could help Mr. Macron push his ambitious social and economic reforms.

The French president promised to overhaul politics during the campaign and many of the candidates running under the Macron banner for these elections are total newcomers. Melissa Bell met the newbies, who are poised to make their debut as lawmakers.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cedric Villani was known as an award-winning mathematician. Now he's campaigning as part of Emmanuel Macron's movement to become a member of parliament.

Villani is one of 525 candidates standing for Macron's movement, about half are new to politics and, like Villani, hope to bring to parliament more than just their ambition.

VILLANI: I know about science. And science is more important than ever in the public debate, even very technical scientific questions are now everyday in debate, about climate change or artificial intelligence or you name it.

I've been a teacher and very much involved in the scientific culture. And this will be important because one of the crucial things needed in politics now is people being able to explain to a wide audience, not thinking that people are too dumb to understand the complexity but explaining the complexity in simple terms.

BELL (voice-over): Jean-Michel Fauvergue hopes to bring another set of skills to parliament. The former head of France's elite police force says security is why he joined Macron's movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He's a man who can bring people together and, more importantly, for the cop in me, he's a real commander in chief.

BELL (voice-over): Another candidate is Marie Sara, the former bullfighter says she's simply taking to another arena the determination she's shown in the bullring. Polls suggest she's on course to beat the far right incumbent.

MARIE SARA, EN MARCHE MP CANDIDATE (through translator): There's an extraordinarily movement which is happening in France with a real renewal of the political class. If I can be a part of that, then I will be very proud. I'm going to try and meet people to explain to them that they don't need to be scared.

BELL: The En Marche candidates will find out on Sunday night whether their campaigning and the meetings they've held in town halls like this one in Gevre (ph) have actually paid off.

Emmanuel Macron will also find out whether he's won the second part of his gamble. Last month, he became president without the benefit of an established party, something that's unprecedented.

Now he's hoping to secure a parliamentary majority, the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the Fifth Republic -- Melissa Bell, CNN, in Lucerne (ph).


VANIER: And that's it for now. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" is next. Stay with CNN.