Rescuers recovered the bodies of two North Korean sailors, pulled three survivors and were searching for 11 others missing after their cargo ship sank off South Korea’s coast early Friday, the coast guard said.
The Mongolian-flagged ship was carrying 16 North Korean crew members when it sent a distress signal in international waters about 130 km south of the southern port city of Yeosu, South Korea’s coast guard said in a statement.
Three people were rescued and told investigators they escaped from the ship as it was tilting with its freight being pushed to one side.
South Korean coast guard officers said that high waves and strong wind were reported in the area where the 4,300-tonne ship sank. It was carrying iron ore to China from the North Korean port city of Chongjin.
The coast guard said it mobilised 13 vessels and six aircraft to search for the missing crew. Bad weather was still hampering rescue operations, according to the coast guard officers.
It was not immediately known how South Korea will handle the rescued North Korean sailors. Seoul usually repatriates North Korean sailors found drifting in South Korean waters if they want to return home.
All three rescued sailors were taken to a hospital on the southern South Korean island of Jeju and none of them was in life-threatening condition, the coast guard statement said.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. On Monday, the rival Koreas fired hundreds of artillery shells into each other’s waters in a flare-up of animosities.