Cargo ship with 43 crew and nearly 6,000 cattle sank off Japan, survivor says

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A cargo ship carrying 43 crew members and nearly 6,000 cattle sank off the coast of Japan after reportedly losing an engine in rough seas caused by Typhoon Maysak, a survivor has said.

The Filipino crew member, named as Eduardo Sareno, a 45-year-old chief officer, was rescued late on Wednesday after Japanese navy P-3C surveillance aircraft spotted him wearing a life vest and waving while bobbing in the water.

Sareno, who was in good health, told rescuers the ship capsized before sinking, according to Yuichiro Higashi, a spokesman for the Japanese coastguard’s regional headquarters which is conducting the search for survivors with 4 patrol boats, two aeroplanes and divers.

The Panamanian-registered vessel, Gulf Livestock 1, sent the distress call early on Wednesday from the East China Sea, to the west of Amami Ōshima island in south-west Japan, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

According to Sareno, the ship lost an engine before it was hit by a wave and capsized, a coastguard spokeswoman said. Crew were instructed to put on life jackets as the ship capsized, he said, adding that he had jumped into the water and had not seen any other crew members before he was rescued.

He feared not all were able to hear the instruction to put on life jackets, according to the Department of Labor and Employment in Manila. Sareno is currently in hospital in Japan.

The crew comprises 39 Filipinos, two Australians and two New Zealanders, the Kyodo news agency said.

One of the missing Australians is Lukas Orda, 25, of Queensland, who was working on the live export ship as a veterinarian, a job he had only begun in June after leaving a horse veterinary practice on the Gold Coast.

Michael Lowcock, a Catholic priest from the town of Mount Isa in Queensland, said Orda’s family were “very devastated” by news the ship had sunk. He said Orda, with his wife Emma, had recently had their first child – a son named Theo. Orda’s parents are both well known doctors in their community.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Dfat) said it was in touch with the families of the two Australians onboard.

“The Australian government is providing consular assistance to the families of two Australian crew members onboard a cargo vessel reported missing in Japanese waters,” Dfat said.

The cause of the distress was not immediately known, but the weather was rough in the area due to Typhoon Maysak. Strong winds and torrential rain from the typhoon had initially hampered the search operation, but the weather has improved, Higashi said.

The vessel, owned by Gulf Navigation Holding based in the United Arab Emirates, departed Napier in New Zealand on 14 August with 5,867 cattle onboard, New Zealand’s foreign ministry told Reuters.

The vessel was en route to the port of Jingtang in Tangshan, China, with an estimated journey of approximately 17 days, it said.

Australian Associated Press reported the shipment was believed to have been put together by Australasian Global Exports, a Melbourne-based exporter that operates across Australia and New Zealand. The company’s executive director of procurement, Graeme Turner, declined to comment.

The exporter is believed to be responsible for employing stockhandlers and vets, with the shipping company employing the crew.

The New Zealand animal rights organisation Safe said the tragedy demonstrated the risks of the live animal export trade. “These cows should never have been at sea,” said Safe’s campaigns manager, Marianne Macdonald. “This is a real crisis, and our thoughts are with the families of the 43 crew who are missing with the ship. But questions remain, including why this trade is allowed to continue.”

Typhoon Maysak had weakened to a tropical storm as it arrived off the east coast of North Korea on Thursday. North Korean state TV showed flooding along the eastern coast but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The country is vulnerable to natural disasters due to its poor infrastructure, with flooding in deforested mountains and hills a particular concern.

Earlier on Thursday, the typhoon had brought down trees and caused flooding in parts of South Korea, knocking out power to more than 270,000 homes and leaving at least one person dead.