Search and Rescue Underway After Chinese Cargo Ship Sinks off Vietnam

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Vietnamese authorities reported a search and rescue mission was underway off southern Vietnam after a Chinese-owned cargo ship issued a distress call and later sank in bad weather. Eleven crew members were rescued with two additional bodies having been recovered and two sailors reported missing.

The 8,500 DWT Xin Hong, a 21-year-old vessel was sailing from Malaysia to Taiwan with a cargo of 7,800 tons of clay. The vessel was approximately 20 miles off the island of Phu Quy, which is 60 miles off the coast of southern Vietnam. The ship had a crew of 15 including eight Chinese nationals and three Vietnamese.

The vessel was sailing in bad weather with heavy rain, winds between 30 and 40 knots, and waves 4 to 5 meters when the cargo shifted causing the vessel to list approximately 8 degrees to starboard. The ship’s captain reportedly asked for permission to enter the port at Phu Quy and proceeded to approximately 1.5 nautical miles when the list increased to make the vessel no longer maneuverable. 

At around 5 pm local time on December 17 the Marine Police received a distress call from the vessel reporting that they were sinking. Coast Guard vessels were dispatched to the scene to begin a search and rescue mission.

The Coast Guard reported arriving on the scene with very low visibility and bad weather with the crew widely scattered in the water.  By 2 am the 11 crew had been successfully rescued and two additional bodies were recovered. The search was ongoing for two additional missing crew members while the injured crew were being transferred to the island. The District Party Committee secretary reported that a quarantine area was being established in the military medical center to treat the crew and that they would also be tested for COVID-19.

Other reports indicated that the ship’s EPIRB emergency buoy issued a signal at about 1:30 a.m., presumably when the Xin Hong sank. The Coast Guard later reported finding an empty life raft in the area.

Due to the bad weather in the area normal shipping had been suspended between the island and the mainland. Officials however informed ships and fishermen operating in the area asking for assistance in searching for the two missing crew members.

The port authority of Binh Thuan province also issued a request to the owners of the Panama-flagged ship, Hong He Shipping Co., to prepare a plan to address any oil spills from the ship. They were also told to prepare to salvage the sunken ship, although it is unclear what the water depth is in the area where the ship sank.

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