Cargo ship with 22 people sinks off Japan, leaving 2 dead, 9 missing

South Korean coast guard personnel conducing search and rescue operations after a Hong Kong cargo ship sank off Jeju, on Jan 25, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Two people died and nine were missing after a cargo ship sank off south-western Japan early on Wednesday amid fierce winter winds, said the Japan Coast Guard as it continued to search for survivors.

Six people who were rescued remained unconscious, while five had been revived as at 8.30pm local time, the the coast guard said, partly citing information from its South Korean counterpart.

The 6,651-tonne Hong Kong-registered Jintian, which had 22 crew on board – 14 Chinese and eight Myanmar nationals, issued a distress call late on Tuesday.

Japan’s coast guard said it received a distress call at around 11.15pm on Tuesday from about 110km west of the uninhabited Danjo Islands in far south-western Japan.

The ship’s captain used a satellite phone to tell South Korean coast guard officials that he and the crew would abandon the sinking ship in the early hours of Wednesday morning, said the Jeju Coast Guard. Contact with the crew was then lost.

The area where the ship sank is between Nagasaki Prefecture in south-western Japan and South Korea’s southern island of Jeju, where hundreds of flights were cancelled on Tuesday because of harsh weather.

Western parts of Japan were also battered by winter storms that brought freezing, windy conditions on Tuesday. A gale warning was issued when the distress signal was made.

The Japanese coast guard sought assistance from patrol ships and aircraft in the vicinity west of Nagasaki, said government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno.

The ship sank at 2.46 am on Wednesday, he added.

Three private ships were in the area and helped pick up five of the stranded crew members, said Japan’s coast guard.

Multiple vessels and aircraft from the coast guard and military, as well as the South Korean coast guard and a private ship, were involved in the search operation.

“Our vessels will remain in the area and will continue the search operation throughout the night,” a Japan coast guard official said.

Media reports cited a person who had been on the ship as saying the vessel had listed and taken on water, and that all the crew were transferred to lifeboats. There was no immediate word on what caused the vessel to capsize.

Media reports said the vessel carrying lumber was expected to reach the port of Incheon, South Korea, on Wednesday. It left Malaysia’s Port Klang in early December, according to tracking site MarineTraffic.

The Jintian incident appears to be the worst since a cargo ship carrying almost 6,000 cattle sank in 2020 off the coast of Japan, leaving most of its crew of about 40 missing at sea.

A separate ship ran aground in heavy wind off the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa on Tuesday. Its 19 crew members from China were rescued, media reported. REUTERS, AFP

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