Crews rescued after drifting in rough seas

A Hong Kong shipmaster and seven crew were rescued yesterday after abandoning their sinking boat and drifting in rough mainland waters for more than five hours.

Master Cheung Chi-wah, 39, telephoned police at 2.30am and said his fishing boat was taking in water due to bad weather about 46km south of Dangan Islands, a Marine Department spokesman said.

A plane and helicopter were dispatched by the Hong Kong Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Mr Cheung and his seven mainland fishermen donned life jackets and jumped into the water, abandoning their boat, Chu Man 4, when it sank at 3am.

'After searching for about an hour, the fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter were forced to return to Hong Kong because of a thunderstorm,' the spokesman said.

Mainland authorities dispatched a rescue boat to the scene and nearby vessels were alerted. The two aircraft returned at 5.30am after the weather improved.

About 8.30am, the helicopter sighted the eight men drifting 9km away from where the boat had sunk. Rescuers said it was raining heavily and waves were as high as five to six metres.

The helicopter picked up seven men, while the other was rescued by a passing German cargo vessel that ferried him to the mainland.

Just after 7am, the Marine Department received another call - from a Maltese-registered cargo vessel - when it took in water 78 nautical miles southwest of Waglan Island in mainland waters.

The 6,065-tonne Behice was bound for Singapore. The 17 crew members from Pakistan, Turkey, Philippines and Russia were either on a life boat or drifting in water when they were rescued.