The U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald will return home in the fall for repairs on a private heavy lift vessel, following its June collision with a container ship south of Tokyo Bay, a Navy spokesman said Tuesday.

It will be "September at the earliest," U.S. Navy 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Clayton Doss told Kyodo News, saying transporting the destroyer on the heavy lift ship is "cost-effective and safe."

Following the June 17 collision in which seven crew members died, the destroyer, equipped with state-of-the-art Aegis missile defense, sustained significant damage to its starboard side near the bridge.

The destroyer armed with Standard Missile-3 interceptors capable of intercepting North Korean-launched missiles, had been sailing in Japanese coastal waters to monitor the country following a series of its ballistic missile launches.

While repairs are expected to take a while, Doss said the destroyer, currently berthed at the Yokosuka naval base near Tokyo, will remain part of the Navy's 7th Fleet.

The Navy is mulling the possibility of dispatching a new destroyer to the Yokosuka base in place of the Fitzgerald, he said.

Crew members involved in repair work will return to the United States along with the Fitzgerald but it has not been decided whether the other crew members will also return, the spokesman said.

Doss said the Navy considered other options regarding repair of the destroyer, such as fixing it in Japan fully or at least to the point where it can return home on its own.

The 8,315-ton Fitzgerald collided with the Filipino container ship, the 29,060-ton ACX Crystal operated by Japanese shipping firm Nippon Yusen K.K., early on June 17 about 20 kilometers southeast of Cape Irozaki in Shizuoka Prefecture.

U.S. Navy ship collides with container ship off Japan