Coastguard searches for missing in North Sea sinking

Dutch rescue workers on Thursday resumed their grim search for six crew members missing after their cargo ship sank in a busy North Sea shipping lane, but there was little hope of finding survivors after another body was fished from the icy waters.

"There are still six missing, we're now searching with planes, helicopters and ships," coastguard spokesman Marcel Oldenburger told AFP.

"We're currently only searching for bodies because the chance that anyone has survived is very small," said another coastguard spokesman, Peter Westenberg.

Rescuers, including the Dutch navy, on Wednesday plucked 13 survivors from the water after the Baltic Ace car carrier collided with the Corvus J container ship about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Rotterdam.

They also pulled four bodies from the water before suspending the search overnight.

A Belgian sea rescue helicopter found another body at around 11:45 am (1045 GMT) on Thursday, the coastguard said, bringing the confirmed death toll to five.

The 148-metre (485-foot) Bahamas-registered Baltic Ace sank shortly afterwards, the coastguard said. The Corvus J was also damaged, but assisted in the search for missing crew.

The ship sank in water 25-30 metres deep, the coastguard said.

Rescue efforts overnight were hampered by snow flurries and plummeting temperates as well as strong winds and waves of up to three metres (10 feet).

"The water temperature is around seven degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit), not very warm," another coastguard spokesman, Marcel Oldenburger, told AFP.

"Survival time depends on your clothes, if you're wearing a survival suit and a life jacket you can last a while but if you fall overboard wearing jeans then that's really not much."

The shipping lane where the accident happened is one of the busiest in the North Sea and an important passing point for ships sailing into Rotterdam port, Europe's largest and the fifth-largest in the world.

The coastguard refused to speculate on what caused the accident, adding that the Dutch marine gendarmerie has launched an enquiry.

Janusz Wolosz, second secretary at the Polish embassy in The Hague, told AFP that 11 of the 24 crew were Polish, of whom six have been saved.

Four Poles including the captain were taken to hospital in Belgium, another in Rotterdam and the sixth was being treated on a rescue ship, he said, adding that five have "the status of missing".

Oldenburger said the rest of the crew was made up of Filipinos, Bulgarians and Ukrainians.

The foreign ministry in Sofia said one Bulgarian national had been aboard the Baltic Ace but was among the 13 rescued sailors and was in good health.

The Philippines and Ukrainian embassies could not say how many of their nationals had been aboard.

"The police are trying to identify the bodies that have been found," Oldenburger said. He could not say if the bodies had been pulled from the water wearing life vests.

The Baltic Ace was heading from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Kotka in Finland and the Cypriot-registered Corvus J from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp in Belgium.

A spokesman for United European Car Carriers in Oslo said the Baltic Ace was carrying 1,417 cars when it went down.

This is an awful tragedy and our thoughts go first of all to the crew families, Craig Jasienski told AFP.

Rotterdam port spokesman Sjaak Poppe told AFP the collision would not affect shipping in and out of the port.

Despite being home to one of the world's busiest shipping routes, the North Sea off the Dutch coast is relatively safe and fatal accidents are rare.

There are around 24 serious incidents in the area every year, national news agency ANP reported, around half of them collisions.

A Dutch fishing boat in April 2005 netted a World War II bomb that killed three fishermen when it exploded on board their vessel.

In November 1994 a bulk carrier hit the trawler Larissa in the busy Dutch shipping route, killing six crew and the captain.

burs-cjo/jmm

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