National

One missing, four unresponsive and 16 rescued after Hawaii-bound ship from Japan catches fire in Pacific

AP

A crew member who abandoned a vessel that caught fire in the Pacific Ocean while carrying cars from Japan to Hawaii remains missing after 16 were rescued. Four others were listed as unresponsive after rescue ships spotted them and lowered life rings but got no reply.

The Sincerity Ace, a 198-meter car carrier, had 21 crew members on board when the fire started Monday.

The U.S. Coast Guard coordinated the rescue effort with merchant ships as the Sincerity Ace was 3,333 km northwest of Honolulu. Although the ships were able to rescue 16 of the crew, life rings attached to lines were thrown to four crew members who didn’t pull themselves up to safety.

“If the person in the water can’t grab onto something there’s not much these … vessels can do for them,” said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West. The lowest deck on some of the massive vessels is 7.6 meters to the water, West explained, noting the four were not in life rafts.

Japanese shipping company Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd. owns the Panamanian-flagged vessel, which was still on fire Wednesday, company spokesman Darrell Wilson said in a statement.

Coast Guard and U.S. Navy aircraft are searching a 10,800-km area for the missing crewmember, but don’t have any ability to land, West said. The nearest Coast Guard ships are days away, he said. It’s not clear what plans are in place to retrieve the four who were unresponsive.

The company, based in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, has dispatched commercial tugs to the vessel, which are estimated to be four to five days away, Wilson said.

The cause of the fire was unknown.