The Marine Department has placed port authorities on alert after receiving a distress call from the captain of a Malaysian registered cargo ship fearing that several crewmen may have contracted Sars. The ship's master last night received permission to enter Hong Kong after reporting that 10 of the 24 crewmen aboard the Bunga Malawis Satu had developed Sars-like symptoms, including coughs, fever and chills. It is the first incident involving a ship carrying suspected Sars patients calling on Hong Kong. The vessel had been en route from Thailand to the southern port of Huangpu in Guangzhou. The ship is expected to arrive in Hong Kong this morning and the master has been advised to drop anchor in the northwest part of Tsing Yi. Director of Health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun said last night that medical staff would be provided with protective gear before they were allowed to examine the sick crewmen on board. Dr Chan said the crewmen would be sent to Princess Margaret Hospital if any were suspected of having Sars, while the rest of the crew would have to stay on board the vessel for 10 days. When questioned why Hong Kong would allow the vessel to enter with suspected Sars cases, Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Carrie Yau Tsang ka-lai said Hong Kong had to honour its international commitments. 'We cannot stop any ship from entering Hong Kong,' she said. The Director of Marine, Tsui Shung-yiu, said the ship had been given permission to sail into Hong Kong, even though the Guangdong port of Zhanjiang was closer, because the vessel was in the maritime rescue area, and Hong Kong had a responsibility to help. Mr Tsui said the ship would be moored well away from land at Tsing Yi. Dr Chan also said the master has informed Hong Kong that the condition of the sick crewmen, mostly of Indian origin, was improving.