At least two people died after a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship capsized in the wind-whipped waters between South Korea and Japan on Wednesday.
The vessel, Jin Tian, sank early on Wednesday morning about 110km (68 miles) west of the remote Danjo Islands, which are part of the Nagasaki prefecture. The 22 crew members comprised 14 Chinese nationals and eight people from Myanmar.
The Japanese coastguard, which conducted the rescue operation with its South Korean counterpart, said 13 crew members had been rescued, five of whom were conscious, but two other sailors had died.
A Myanmese national was among the dead, the Chinese consulate in Fukuoka said, citing information from the Japanese rescue units. It added that bodies of the other six people appeared stiff when they were rescued and had shown no signs of life.
Rescuers are still searching for the remaining nine people.
Hong Kong authorities are following up on the incident.
The Japanese coastguard confirmed that the five rescued crew members who were alive were Chinese nationals.
Six of the crew were rescued by South Korea’s coastguard. A maritime official based on the South Korean island of Jeju told reporters that unconscious crew members who had been rescued were transported to Nagasaki in Japan.
Coastguard vessels, aircraft and two commercial cargo ships were continuing their search for missing crew members but strong winds and waves had slowed their efforts, South Korean officials said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the ship to sink and there were no signs of a collision with another vessel, according to the Japanese coastguard. Winds were strong at the time the distress signal was received.
Japan was hit with winter storms on Tuesday in western parts of the country, with extremely low temperatures and strong winds in many other areas as well.
Heavy snow fell in some areas and daytime temperatures in some of the islands that were the closest to the rescue site reached just 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 Fahrenheit).