Page last updated at 08:42 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Search as ship sinks off Lebanon

Rescuers help a survivor from the Danny F II ashore in Tripoli, 17 December
Survivors were taken ashore in Tripoli

A major rescue operation is under way after a ship carrying 83 passengers and crew and a cargo of livestock sank off the north Lebanese coast in a storm.

The Panamanian-flagged Danny F II capsized 11 nautical miles off Tripoli after sending a distress signal.

At least 31 survivors from the vessel - sailing from Uruguay to the Syrian port of Tartous - have been picked up as well as two bodies, reports said.

High seas, strong winds and severe rain are hampering the rescue effort.

One of those saved was from the Philippines and another from Pakistan, a Lebanese rescue official said.

Map showing Lebanon

"They were very scared and cold when we pulled them out of the water," he told AFP news agency.

"If the sea remains calm we hope to find more survivors, but if the storm kicks up again then they have little chance of surviving for more than an hour in the water," he said.

All the livestock were presumed dead, he added.

A Lebanese military spokesman said the crew had time to don life jackets before the boat capsized.

The ship's operator, Agencia Schandy, told AFP in Montevideo that those on board the Danny F II included six passengers - four Uruguayans, one Brazilian and an Australian.

The ship had left Montevideo on 23 November with 10,224 sheep and 17,932 cattle, the company said.

International search

The ship's crew are mostly from the Philippines and Pakistan but there is at least one Lebanese and one Syrian on board, a port official in Tripoli said.

Reports from Tripoli said ambulances had been seen rushing out of the port area to nearby hospitals.

Ships from the Lebanese navy and the UN peacekeeping force for Lebanon (Unifil) are conducting the search, along with a Lebanese civilian vessel.

"Three maritime task force ships - one Italian and two German - were dispatched about 10 nautical miles off the coast of Tripoli after the Lebanese navy received a distress call from a Panamanian-flagged ship," Unifil spokesman Andrea Tenenti told AFP news agency.

A British military base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus was also taking part in the rescue.

"We have scrambled one helicopter from 84 Squadron but because of the distance from (Akrotiri) base it will be operating out of Larnaca," British Forces spokesman Stuart Bardsley said.

"The helicopter is not equipped to winch at night but we provide a searchlight facility to lead the boats where there are life rafts."

The cargo ship issued a distress call on Thursday afternoon, but had sunk before a Lebanese navy ship reached the area, a Lebanese army officer said.

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