Ships searching windswept waters between South Korea and Japan have picked up at least 14 of the 22 crew members of a cargo ship that sank early Wednesday morning.

South Korean authorities said nine of them remain unconscious, but did not immediately confirm any deaths. They said the crew members would be flown to Japan for treatment.

South Korean and Japanese coast guard ships and planes, as well as two commercial cargo ships, continue to search for the eight missing crew members, but efforts are slowed by strong winds and waves, South Korean officials said. .

The Japanese coast guard confirmed the rescue of at least 13 crew members and said five of them, all Chinese nationals, were still alive.

The 6,551-tonne Jin Tian sank about three and a half hours after sending out a distress call at around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese coast guard spokesman Shinya said. Kitahara.

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

The captain last contacted the coast guard via satellite phone at about 2:41 a.m. and said crew members would abandon the ship minutes before it sank, coast guard officials said. jeju island.

Six crew members were picked up by South Korean coast guard ships, while a cargo ship picked up five and a Japanese plane picked up three, according to the Jeju coast guard.

Rescue efforts after the ship sank on Wednesday between South Korea’s southern Jeju Island and southwestern Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture. AFP Getty Images

According to South Korean and Japanese officials, 14 crew members are Chinese and eight are from Myanmar. According to shipping websites, the ship left Port Klang in Malaysia on December 3 and was headed to Incheon port in South Korea.

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

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

South Korean authorities did not immediately say whether the unconscious nine could survive their injuries if they were not already dead. They said the other five crew members who were rescued were either conscious when they were found or regained consciousness after being rescued.

Kitahara said the cause of the ship’s sinking was not immediately known and there were no signs of it colliding with another vessel. He said the arrival of Japanese patrol boats and planes was delayed due to bad weather that followed the sinking.

Jeju coast guard officials say a high wind warning was issued for the area on Wednesday but later lifted. Winds were blowing at around 16 meters (yards) per second in the area at 7 am, creating waves 3 to 4 meters (yards) high.

The Japanese coast guard said the water in the area was still rough and the temperature was around 14 degrees Celsius.