Cargo ship sinks in Japanese waters


AFP

TOKYO — One seaman was killed and 20 others were reported missing after a cargo ship with 25 Chinese crew on board sank off Japan’s southern islands, Japanese and Taiwanese coast guards said Thursday. Taiwanese maritime authorities informed Japan’s coast guard that the Panama-registered ship went missing some 340 kilometers (210 miles) south of Iriomote island in the Pacific early Wednesday, officials said. The 17,000-tonne Nasco Diamond left Indonesia on Nov. 4 for China carrying 55,000 tonnes of nickel. Four crew members had so far been rescued, Japanese officials said as a search and rescue operation continued in the hope of finding other survivors.

It was not immediately clear what caused the ship to sink, as weather conditions in the area were calm with moderate wind, good visibility and no rain, according to Japan’s coast guard. Japanese and Taiwanese patrol boats have recovered one body, rescued three crew members and found another in critical condition, officials said. One of the rescued crew members told Japanese officials the vessel sank quickly after taking on water in the engine room. “Water suddenly came in, and then I jumped into the sea wearing a life jacket,” the 26-year-old male crew member told Japanese officials. “After that, it took less than five minutes for the ship to sink,” said the man, who was said to be in good health. Japan sent a helicopter with a doctor on board to the Taiwanese patrol boat to pick up two rescued crew members in need of medical attention and to bring them to a Japanese island in the region. A Japanese patrol boat also recovered a life raft drifting some 28 kilometers southwest of the site where the ship was believed to have sunk, but found no one inside. Patrol aircraft were dispatched to the site. An oil slick was spotted on the surface of nearby waters but officials have yet to locate the vessel. The area where the ship went missing is near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea where a Chinese fishing trawler collided with Japanese coast guard vessels in September, sparking a heated diplomatic dispute. Japan’s arrest of the Chinese captain sparked a barrage of protests from Beijing that continued even after Tokyo released him, with ties between the two sides deteriorating. “China is paying close attention to this incident and is coordinating with relevant countries to coordinate rescue efforts. At present, the rescue is still going on,” China Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday.

In October, one sailor died when another Panama-registered freighter also carrying 25 Chinese crew capsized in rough seas off Taiwan on its way from Indonesia to China’s eastern Shandong province.