At least three crew members died when a cargo ship carrying cars sank after colliding with a container ship in the North Sea tonight, Dutch coastguards and media reports said.
The coastguards mounted an air-and-sea rescue operation after the Baltic Ace, a car carrier sailing under a Bahamas flag, collided with the Corvus J, a container ship from Cyprus, off Rotterdam port.
Dutch news agency ANP, citing police, reported that 13 of the 24 crew from the Baltic Ace had been rescued and taken to hospital for treatment, while at least three were dead.
Coastguard spokesman Peter Verburg said some members of the crew were found on four life rafts and were lifted to safety by helicopters near the scene of the collision.
The accident occurred about 40-50km off Rotterdam port in an important North Sea shipping lane.
The cause of the collision was not immediately established, but the British Met Office had predicted gale-force winds and rain in the area.
The Baltic Ace was en route from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Kotka in Finland, while the Corvus J was going from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium, Dutch media reported.
Operations at Rotterdam Port were not affected by the collision, a port spokesman told Reuters. Rotterdam is Europe's biggest port and handles commodities and manufactured goods.
"It doesn't have any consequences for the port, it is far away from the entrance to the port," spokesman Sjaak Poppe said.