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Japan coast guard: 16 missing after ships collide

TWO cargo ships collided off the coast of a central Japanese island today, leaving 16 South Korean and Indonesian crew members missing, Japan's coast guard said.

The coast guard dispatched five ships and three helicopters to search for the 16 crew - seven South Koreans and nine Indonesians. They were on board the South Korean-registered cargo ship, which collided with a Panama-registered cargo vessel in the waters off Izu Oshima, a small island about 120 kilometers (74 miles) south of Tokyo.

"We are continuing search and rescue operations, but the 16 crew members remain missing," said coast guard spokesman Hidefumi Onoue. He said the 4,255-ton South Korean ship was also missing, and that it might have sunk.

"When the collision took place early in the morning, the visibility of the area was very poor due to rain," he said. More than 12 hours after the collision, the coast guard only found two empty lifeboats and three life vests belonging to the South Korean ship.

"We are racing against time, but we are doing our utmost to rescue them," Onoue said.

All 19 crew on the 10,833-ton Panama-registered ship are safe, he said, adding they comprised 14 Thais, three from Myanmar, and two Indonesians.

The South Korean ship carrying steel parts was on its way home, while the Panamanian ship carrying vehicles was heading toward a port in Aichi, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of the collision area, the coast guard said. It was not immediately clear how the collision happened.

The Panamanian vessel earlier joined the search and rescue operations, but the ship is now sailing toward a port in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Onoue said.


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