Chinese Cargo Ship Sinks in Storm with Rescue Operation Continuing

Chinese cargo ship crew missing
Search is ongoing for the missing crew from a Chinese cargo ship (South Korean Coast Guard photos)

Published Jan 25, 2023 3:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Teams from the Japanese and South Korean coast guards along with at least two commercial vessels are continuing to search an area in the East China Sea after a Chinese-owned cargo ship sunk during a fierce winter storm in the region. At least 13 crewmembers have been rescued although at least two have died and others remain unconscious. As many as nine are thought to still be missing.

The coast guards are reporting that they received a distress call from the Jin Tian, a 9,800 dwt, cargo ship registered in Hong Kong that was sailing to Incheon, South Korea from Port Klang, Malaysia. The captain advised them via satellite phone that the lumber cargo aboard the ship had apparently shifted during the storm and the vessel was listing and beginning to take on water. The first call was received around 11:15 p.m. on January 24 and they last heard from the captain around 2:41 a.m. on January 25 when he said the crew was abandoning ship into the lifeboats.

A gale warning had been posted for the region with reports saying the winds were ranging between 35 and 45 mph. The seas were running between 9 and 13 feet with the Japan Coast Guard saying the water temperature was around 57 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The vessel is thought to have sunk around 2:45 a.m. The coast guards are estimating its position to be approximately 100 miles southwest of Nagasaki, Japan, and 90 miles south of South Korea’s Jeju Island. The joint rescue effort is taking place outside of Japan’s waters.


(Courtesy of South Korean Coast Guard)


A passing commercial ship found five Chinese crewmembers in one of the lifeboats. At least some of them were reported to be conscious when they were brought aboard the unidentified ship. Separately, the South Korean Coast Guard rescued six additional crewmembers. Later reports said that five crewmembers were conscious and communicating while six others were unconscious and had been airlifted to hospitals in Japan.

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force also located two crewmembers both of whom were unconscious. They were pronounced dead at a hospital in Japan.

The search is looking for as many as nine additional crewmembers. It is believed that at least some of them made it into lifeboats. Some reports are indicating that the number of missing was later reduced to eight. The crew is believed to have consisted of 14 from China and eight from Myanmar.

Adverse weather conditions were slowing the search effort. However later in the day Wednesday the gale warning was dropped for the area. 

It is the second vessel this week to be evacuated during the storms in the region. A Chinese freighter also went aground on a Japanese reef earlier on Tuesday, January 24. The Japan Coast Guard airlifted 19 crewmembers to safety.