Ship sinks between South Korea and Japan; 9 remain in coma

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Ships searching the windy waters between South Korea and Japan have rescued at least 14 of the 22 crew members on board a cargo ship that sank early Wednesday.

South Korean officials said nine of them remained in a coma, but they did not immediately confirm whether anyone had died. The crew will be flown to Japan for medical treatment, they said.

South Korean officials said South Korean and Japanese coast guard ships and planes, as well as two merchant ships, were continuing to search for the eight missing sailors, but the search had been slowed by strong winds and high waves.

The Japan Coast Guard confirmed that at least 13 crew members had been rescued and said five of them – all Chinese nationals – were alive.

The 6,551-ton Jin Tian sank about three-and-a-half hours after issuing a distress call in Japan’s exclusive economic zone at around 11:15 p.m. on Tuesday, said Japan Coast Guard spokesman Shinya Kitahara.

The Hong Kong-registered and loaded timber vessel sank about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Nagasaki, Japan, and 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Jeju Island, South Korea.

Jeju Coast Guard officials said the captain last contacted the coast guard by satellite phone at around 2:41 a.m., saying the crew would abandon the ship minutes before it sank.

A South Korean Coast Guard vessel picked up six crew members, a cargo ship picked up five crew members and a Japanese plane picked up three crew members, according to the Jeju Island Coast Guard.

Fourteen of the crew were Chinese and eight were Burmese, according to South Korean and Japanese officials. According to the shipping website, the ship left Port Klang, Malaysia, on December 3, bound for the port of Incheon, South Korea.

The ship is owned by Hong Kong-registered company Long Bright Shipping Limited, a subsidiary of Shenzhen Shekou Shipping Co Ltd, according to a July 2022 filing by the parent company with China’s National Equities Exchange and Quotations. Jin Tian was used as collateral for a loan that was later repaid, the document said.

Calls to Shenzhen Shekou Shipping in mainland China went unanswered on Wednesday during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

South Korean officials did not immediately say whether the nine unconscious people were likely to survive, if not die. The other five rescued crew members were either found conscious or regained consciousness after being rescued, they said.

Kitahara said it was unclear why the ship sank and there was no indication it had collided with another ship. The arrival of Japanese patrol boats and aircraft was delayed by bad weather after the sinking, he said.

A strong wind warning was issued for the area early Wednesday but was later lifted, officials with the Jeju Coast Guard said. As of 7am, winds in the area were gusting at about 16 meters (yards) per second, creating waves 3 to 4 meters (yards) high.

The Japan Coast Guard said waters in the area remained choppy, with temperatures of about 14 degrees Celsius.

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Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. AP Writer Zen Soo in Singapore contributed to the report.

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