Four crew members died and seven were missing in the icy waters of the North Sea, after a cargo ship collided with another vessel and sank off the Dutch coast Wednesday night, rescuers said.
"We can confirm that four bodies have been found, along with 13 people rescued alive," said Coast Guard spokesman Marcel Oldenburger.
A massive air and sea rescue operation involving several helicopters, two navy patrol ships and even one of the ships involved in the collision to find the remaining seven sailors was called off at about 2 a.m. Coast Guard officials said they would decide at daylight whether to continue the search.
The 148-meter (485-foot) Baltic Ace collided with the 134-meter (440-foot) container ship Corvus J in darkness near busy shipping lanes some 65 kilometres (40 miles) off the coast of the southern Netherlands. The Baltic Ace, carrying a cargo of cars, had a crew of 24 which was forced to abandon ship as it sank quickly.
By around 10 p.m. (2100 GMT), 11 crew members had been rescued by helicopters and two more by ships, the coast guard said in a statement. Rescuers were using infrared cameras to hunt for more survivors.
"We still hope to find them," Kees Brinkman, a spokesman for rescuers, told Dutch television nearly four hours after the collision. But, he added, "their chances of survival are shrinking" if they are in the water.
The Dutch Defence Ministry said in a statement two navy patrol ships were aiding the search. "Helicopters are trying, in (strong wind) and high waves to bring the people to safety," the ministry said.
Verburg said the 12-man crew of the Corvus J was still on board the ship, which was helping in the rescue operation. Details of its cargo were not immediately available. "It is badly damaged, but not in danger of sinking," Verburg said of the Corvus J.
The coast guard spokesman said the cause of the collision was not known. "At the moment we are solely focused on getting the people to safety," he said. Four of the survivors were being flown to a hospital in Rotterdam and seven to an airbase in Belgium.