The Dutch coastguard is searching for seven crew missing after a cargo ship sank in the North Sea.

Four people died and 13 were rescued after the Baltic Ace, a car carrier, collided with the Corvus J, a container ship from Cyprus, yesterday evening.

The collision happened about 50 nautical miles off Rotterdam port in an important North Sea shipping lane.

A Dutch coastguard official said that searching began at first light, but "the chance of finding any survivors is very slim".

The search is being hampered by strong winds and snow.

The cause of the collision was unclear, 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 in Belgium.

The coastguard said the Corvus J was still in the area and was not badly damaged in the collision.