SEOUL - An overnight search for a cargo ship carrying 16 North Korean crew that sank off South Korea killing at least two failed to find any signs of survivors or debris, officials said Saturday.
The 4,300-tonne Mongolian-flagged ship sent out a distress call from international waters off South Korea's southern island of Geomun shortly after 1:00 am Friday (1400 GMT Thursday).
The bodies of two North Korean sailors were recovered Friday and three other crew were rescued, with 11 people still missing mid-morning Saturday.
Eleven South Korean ships equipped with floodlights and night vision devices scoured the site overnight but found no traces of the boat or crew members, the South's coastguard said in a statement.
The coastguard resumed the search Saturday, mobilising 12 vessels and seven aircraft to hunt for possible survivors.
The boat, carrying a cargo of iron ore and copper powder, had been sailing from North Korea to China on a sea route regularly used by North Korean freighters.
Sea currents were believed to have carried debris southeast towards Japanese waters, the coastguard said, as it asked for cooperation from Japanese authorities in searching for other survivors.
According to the South's Yonhap news agency, the surviving crew told rescuers that the ship had suddenly listed sharply to one side.
South Korea on Friday informed the North it would return the dead bodies and the rescued sailors at Panmunjom, on the border between the two Koreas, on Sunday, a Unification Ministry spokeswoman said.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday the North asked for cooperation from "countries concerned' in rescuing survivors and helping them to return home.