SEOUL: South Korean coastguard units searched Friday for survivors of a cargo ship with 16 North Korean crew that sank with the loss of at least two lives off the South's southern coast.
A coastguard spokesman told AFP that the bodies of two North Korean sailors had been recovered and three other crew had been rescued, with 11 still missing.
The 4,300-tonne Mongolian-flagged ship sent out a distress call shortly after 1:00 am (1400 GMT Thursday) from international waters off South Korea.
The boat, with a cargo of iron ore and copper powder, was sailing from North Korea to China on a sea route regularly used by North Korean cargo ships.
A dozen coastguard vessels, backed by helicopters and civilian cargo ships, were taking part in the search for survivors, the coastguard spokesman said.
The three rescued sailors were taken to a hospital on the southern resort island of Jeju.
"Our operation has been hampered by strong winds and high waves," Kim Sang-Bae, the coastguard chief in Yeosu, told a televised news conference.
A coastguard helicopter found one sailor drifting alive in the sea about three hours after the distress call came. Two crew members were rescued later.
According to the South's Yonhap news agency, the surviving crew told their rescuers that the ship had suddenly listed sharply to one side.
"The cargo shifted right over," said one who abandoned the ship when it became clear it was going to sink.
Yonhap quoted an unnamed government official as saying discussions were under way on repatriating the three and any other survivors. -AFP