At least 14 of the 22 crew members of a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship have been rescued after it sank in waters between South Korea and Japan which were battered by winter storms and freezing conditions.
The coast guard vessels and aircraft of the two countries were searching in choppy waters for eight missing crew members even as efforts were hampered by strong winds and waves, South Korean officials said on Wednesday.
The 6,551-ton cargo ship Jin Tian went down with 14 Chinese and 8 Myanmar nationals on early Wednesday, the Japanese coast guard said.
South Korean officials confirmed that nine of the rescued crew members remained unconscious, but they did not immediately confirm any deaths.
The crew members would be airlifted to Japan for treatment, they added.
It sent a distress call at around 11.15pm on Tuesday and sank about three-and-a-half hours later in Japan‘s exclusive economic zone, said Japanese coast guard spokesperson Shinya Kitahara.
The vessel, carrying hardwood, sank after 2.40am about 160km (100 miles) southwest of Nagasaki, Japan and about 150km (93 miles) south of South Korea’s Jeju island.
Hirokazu Matsuno, a top Japan government spokesman, said the coast guard “is also seeking cooperation from the Self-Defense Forces, South Korean coast guard, and vessels sailing near the waters”.
Addressing a press conference, he added the five crew members who were rescued were all Chinese, but said he had no further information on their condition.
The captain of the ship last communicated with the coast guard around 2.41am, confirming crew members would abandon the ship, Jeju island coast guard officials said.
Six crew members were rescued by South Korean coast guard vessels and a cargo ship picked up five. One member was rescued by a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel, according to Jeju’s coast guard.
The ship sank a day after Japan’s western parts were whipped by winter storms that brought freezing, windy conditions. Hundreds of flights were cancelled on Tuesday between Japan’s Nagasaki city and South Korea’s Jeju island because of harsh weather conditions.
The beneficial owner of the ship is Shenzhen Shekou Shipping Transportation Co, a company in China’s Guangdong Province, according to Bloomberg.
The ship began its journey from Papua New Guinea in early January and was headed for South Korea’s Incheon port.
A Japanese coast guard spokesperson said the cause of the ship’s sinking was not immediately known. There are no signs of the cargo ship colliding with another vessel or object.