The Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald, which was involved in a collision with a merchant ship Saturday, June 17, 2017, is seen at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Sunday, June 18, 2017.

The Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald, which was involved in a collision with a merchant ship Saturday, June 17, 2017, is seen at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, Sunday, June 18, 2017. (Tyler Hlavac/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Mississippi-based company has been awarded a contract to repair the USS Fitzgerald after it was damaged in a June 17 collision that killed seven sailors off Japan.

Huntington Ingalls Industries was chosen because it would be able to restore the guided-missile destroyer at its Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss., in the shortest amount of time, Naval Sea Systems Command said Wednesday in a statement.

“Given the complexity of the work and the significant unknowns of the restoration, the Navy determined that only an Arleigh Burke-class shipbuilder could perform the effort,” the statement said. “Only HII has the available capacity to restore USS Fitzgerald to full operational status in the shortest period of time with minimal disruption to ongoing repair and new construction work.”

The project’s start date, scope, cost and timeline are still to be determined, the statement added.

The Fitzgerald – now in dry dock at its homeport in Yokosuka – will be taken stateside between mid-September and the end of October and will remain under 7th Fleet jurisdiction while in the states, Navy officials said earlier in the month.

Wednesday’s announcement said the Navy has not yet made any decisions regarding which company will receive the contract to take the destroyer stateside.

The Navy decided to transport the Fitzgerald back to the U.S. to free up space along Yokosuka’s waterfront for other 7th Fleet ships needing maintenance, 7th Fleet Spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss said in a previous statement.

“The main reason why the ship was not repaired here is because it would’ve tied up those resources and tied up the dry docks,” he said. “We could do it here; it’s just more cost effective and safer to go through the heavy lift route.”

Seventh Fleet officials did not provide information requested Thursday about what will happen to the Fitzgerald’s crew members and their families during the repair work.

Accidents involving the Fitzgerald and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam have put a strain on Yokosuka’s dry dock space. The naval base has six dry docks, two of which have been unexpectedly occupied by the Fitzgerald and the Antietam, which ran aground and spilled roughly 1,100 gallons of hydraulic fluid into Tokyo Bay in January.

The USS John S. McCain, currently docked at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base after colliding with a civilian oil tanker early Monday, could also further tie up Yokosuka’s dry dock resources.

A third dry dock is occupied by the USS Blue Ridge, which is undergoing planned maintenance.

In a June interview with Stars and Stripes, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said the 7th Fleet would be hard-pressed to keep the Fitzgerald in dry dock long term at Yokosuka.

“I’m concerned about keeping her in dry dock here because that dry dock is critical for us to sustain the ships that are here on the waterfront,” he said.

HII said in a statement that it is America’s largest shipbuilder and has a history of repairing damaged Navy ships, including the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Cole, which was severely damaged in an October 2000 bombing that killed 17 Americans and injured 39.

“Ingalls and all of its employees regret the tragic circumstances that will bring the ship to Pascagoula,” Ingalls Shipbuilding President Brian Cuccias said in a statement. “It is an honor and a privilege to work with the Navy to return the ship to the fleet in the shortest time possible.”

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