Nine missing in boat collision off Taiwan

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese fishing boat capsized off the island's north coast on Friday morning after colliding with a gravel ship, leaving all nine fishermen on board missing, officials said.

Six coastguard vessels and a team of rescue divers have been dispatched to the scene of the crash to search for the missing, including a Taiwanese skipper, four Chinese fishermen and four others from Indonesia.

Pressure on rescuers mounted as little progress was reported.

"We've been racing against time," a coastguard spokesman told AFP, adding that search vessels would continue combing the waters near the accident, however, an attempt by divers to enter the submerged ship was interrupted at dusk.

"The water around the venue was full of fishing nets, making the search work by the divers very difficult," Tseng Shu-feng, a coastguard official, told reporters.

He added that an attempt to tow the ship to a nearby port was also hampered after a cable that was attached to the capsized ship snapped.

According to the authorities, the accident happened when the fishing vessel Shih Hui 31 was sailing off Chuwei, a fishing port near Taoyuan city, in the early hours of Friday and collided with the 8,000-tonne gravel ship.

However, officials have yet to provide details about what instigated the crash.