Local members of Congress react to Weslaco sailor who died in weekend ship accident

U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez expressed grief over the death of a Weslaco sailor who was among the seven killed in a weekend collision between a Naval destroyer and a cargo ship off the coast of Japan.

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco was identified as one of those who died in the accident on Saturday.

“As we grieve the loss of the sailors who committed their lives to protecting and serving our country, I am particularly saddened to learn that one of the sailors found was a South Texas native, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez of Weslaco,” said Rep. Vela. “My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of all the brave sailors of the USS Fitzgerald and with the entire United States Navy during this extremely difficult time. The defense of our democratic values rests on the shoulders of the men and women of our armed forces. Because these brave individuals are willing to risk their lives in service to their country, Americans enjoy security and freedom.”

Gonzalez said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Weslaco native, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez. I want to offer my sincerest condolences to Noe’s family, crew mates, loved ones, and friends as we mourn the loss of a dedicated and selfless young man who represented the very best that the Rio Grande Valley has to offer. As we remember Noe and the six other sailors lost in the accident aboard the U.S.S Fitzgerald, let us not forget the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make every day to serve our country.”

Japan’s coast guard is investigating why it took nearly an hour for a deadly collision between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a container ship to be reported.

A coast guard official said Monday they are trying to find out what the crew of the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal was doing before reporting the collision off Japan’s coast to authorities 50 minutes later.

The ACX Crystal collided with the USS Fitzgerald off Japan’s coast, killing seven of the destroyer’s crew of nearly 300. The ships collided early Saturday morning, when the Navy said most of the 300 sailors on board would have been sleeping. Authorities have declined to speculate on a cause while the crash remains under investigation.

A track of the much-larger container ship’s route by MarineTraffic, a vessel-tracking service, shows it made a sudden turn as if trying to avoid something at about 1:30 a.m., before continuing eastward. It then made a U-turn and returned around 2:30 a.m. to the area near the collision.

The coast guard initially said the collision occurred at 2:20 a.m. because the Philippine ship had reported it at 2:25 a.m. and said it just happened. After interviewing Filipino crewmembers, the coast guard has changed the collision time to 1:30 a.m.

Coast guard official Tetsuya Tanaka said they are trying to resolve what happened during the 50 minutes.

He said officials are planning to get hold of a device with communication records to examine further details of the crash. Japan’s Transport Safety Board also started an accident investigation on Sunday.

Adding to the confusion, a U.S. Navy official said it is sticking with the 2:20 a.m. timing for the crash that he said had been reported by the Fitzgerald.

Asked about the earlier time cited by the coast guard, Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ron Flanders said, “That is not our understanding.” He said any differences would have to be clarified in the investigation.

Nanami Meguro, a spokeswoman for NYK Line, the ship’s operator, agreed with the earlier timing.

Meguro said the ship was “operating as usual” until the collision at 1:30 a.m., as shown on a ship tracking service that the company uses. She said the ship reported to the coast guard at 2:25 a.m., but she could not provide details about what the ship was doing for nearly an hour.

“Because it was in an emergency, the crewmembers may not have been able to place a call,” she said.

Coast guard officials are investigating the case as possible professional negligence, but no criminal charges have been pressed so far.