Rescuers pulled at least three bodies from the icywaters of the North Sea and were frantically searching for eight missing crew from a cargo ship that sank following a collision in a busy shipping lane off the Dutch coast.
The Dutch coastguard and navy plucked 13 survivors from the water after the Baltic Ace, a 23,000 tonne car carrier, collided with container ship the Corvus J at around 7:15 pm (1815 GMT) about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Rotterdam, yesterday.
The Baltic Ace sank shortly afterwards, the coastguard said.
"I can confirm we have found three victims. Eight others are still missing," Marcel Oldenburger said.
He said that 13 crew members who were on board the Bahamas-registered Baltic Ace had been rescued.
Four survivors were flown to a hospital in Rotterdam, seven taken by rescue helicopter to a hospital in Belgium and two were being treated on board a ship that found them, Oldenburger said.
"They are all in shock" and are believed to suffer from hypothermia, he said.
Oldenburger said the search for survivors was frantic: "We don't know where they are at the moment, whether they are in life boats, or in the sea."
At least three helicopters -- one of which was fitted out with infrared imaging equipment to search in the darkness – and a plane have joined the search, Oldenburger said.
The Baltic Ace was under way from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Kotka in Finland and the Corvus J from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp in Belgium, according to shipping tracker website MarineTraffic.com.
"At this stage we don't know what caused the accident," said another coastguard spokesman, Peter Verburg: "Our first priority right now is the safety of the crew."
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.
Rotterdam port spokesman Sjaak Poppe told AFP the collision would not affect shipping in and out of the port.
In one of the most serious collisions in Dutch waters in recent years, the Greek crude oil tanker Mindoro in October 2010 collided with the container ship Jork Ranger off the coast of Scheveningen near The Hague, spilling thousands of litres of kerosene (jet fuel) into the sea, the European Maritime Safety Agency said on its website.