By Junko Fujita and Praveen Menon
TOKYO/WELLINGTON (Reuters) - More than 40 crew members were missing after a ship carrying cattle from New Zealand to China capsized in stormy weather in the East China Sea, the Japanese coastguard said on Thursday.
A lone crew member from the Gulf Livestock 1 had been rescued so far. Three vessels, four airplanes and two divers were taking part in the search, the coastguard said.
The ship, with a cargo of nearly 6,000 cattle, sent a distress call from the west of Amami Oshima island in southwestern Japan on Wednesday as Typhoon Maysak lashed the area with strong winds and heavy seas.
Sareno Edvarodo, a 45-year-old chief officer from the Philippines, was rescued on Wednesday night, Japan's coastguard said. By Thursday evening, he was still the only person rescued so far, a coastguard official said, adding the bodies of some cattle had been recovered.
The crew of 43 was made up of 39 people from the Philippines, two from New Zealand, and two from Australia, the coastguard said.
According to Edvarodo, the ship lost an engine before it was hit by a wave and capsized, a coastguard spokeswoman said.
When the ship capsized, crew were instructed to put on lifejackets. Edvarodo told the coastguard he jumped into the water and did not see any other crew members before he was rescued.
Pictures provided by the coastguard showed a person in a lifejacket being hauled from choppy seas in darkness.
The Philippines government said it was coordinating with the Japanese coastguard in the search.
Typhoon Maysak made landfall in South Korea on Thursday, bringing lashing winds, and at least two people were killed in the southern city of Busan. Another storm, Typhoon Haishen, was brewing south of Japan and is expected to hit the Korean coast on Sunday or Monday.
(Graphic: Path of the Gulf Livestock 1 livestock carrier - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/xklpynjkwvg/GulfLivestock1Path.png)
LIVE CATTLE EXPORT IN SPOTLIGHT
The Gulf Livestock 1 departed Napier in New Zealand on Aug. 14 with a cargo of 5,867 cattle bound for the Port of Jingtang in Tangshan, China. The journey was expected to take about 17 days, New Zealand foreign ministry officials told Reuters.
The 139-metre (450-foot), Panamanian-flagged vessel was built in 2002. UAE-based Gulf Navigation issued a statement saying Gulf Livestock 1 was their vessel.
"Our hearts go out to those onboard and their families at this time," a Gulf Navigation spokesman said. "We also express deep regret for the sad loss of the livestock on board. We are monitoring the situation closely and working closely with those involved in rescue efforts. We pray that there are other survivors."
The young cows were exported by Australia-headquartered Australasian Global Exports, which specialises in live animal exports and owns quarantine facilities in China.
The cows were worth around 20,000 yuan each, said a manager at AGE's subsidiary Beijing Muhuayuan International Trade Co Ltd.
New Zealand animal rights organisation SAFE said the disaster showed the risks of the live animal export trade.
"These cows should never have been at sea," said 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."
China has imported more than 46,000 head of cattle from New Zealand so far this year, according to data from China's customs, mostly to stock the country's expanding dairy farms.
Last year, New Zealand launched a review of its live export trade, worth around NZ$54 million ($37 million) in 2019, after thousands of animals being exported from New Zealand and Australia died in transit.
New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said it had temporarily suspended live cattle export applications after the Gulf Livestock 1 went missing.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington and Junko Fujita in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Gavin Maguire and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore, Karen Lema in Manila and Dominique Patton and Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Richard Pullin, Gerry Doyle, Frances Kerry and Jane Wardell)