MOSCOW: At least eight people died and seven more were missing after a crab-fishing vessel carrying a Russian and Indonesian crew sank in freezing waters off Russia's Far East, investigators said Monday.
Regional transport investigators said survivors had already told them that eight fellow sailors had frozen to death in the life raft and their bodies were thrown overboard to limit the ballast.
The crew of 30 on the Russian fishing vessel Chance 101 -- 19 Russians and 11 Indonesians -- fled in life rafts after the ship was hit by a massive wave Sunday during a manouevre in the Sea of Japan some 50 kilometres (30 miles) out to sea.
"Eighteen people were on one life raft and eight of them died of hypothermia. The bodies of the dead were thrown over the side of the raft," said Natalya Salkina, a spokeswoman for regional transport investigators quoted by Russian news agencies.
She said the information had come from the survivors themselves after they were rescued.
One life raft with 10 survivors was eventually picked up by a Russian cargo ship and taken to the Pacific island of Sakhalin.
Five survivors on another life raft were rescued by a trawler and are being taken to the mainland in the Russian Far East.
The crew apparently had no chance to put on their emergency dry suits before taking to the life rafts, and had to endure bitter winds and sub-freezing temperatures.
"They had no time to dress. They were practically naked," Yuri Shadrin, the captain of one of the boats that rescued the men, told NTV television.
The ITAR-TASS news agency said all the men who arrived in the port of Kholmsk had suffered frostbite, with two Indonesians the worst affected.
Russia's fisheries agency said in a statement to the Interfax news agency that 19 tonnes of crabs, 20 tonnes of herring and 643 tonnes of diesel fuel had gone down with the vessel.
"Unfortunately, it went into the sea," spokesman Alexander Savalyev said.
Regional investigators said they would be looking into how the Indonesians came to be employed on the vessel and whether they were working illegally.
The ship's owners, Vostok-1, based in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok, vehemently denied this was the case and published the names of the 11 Russians and four Indonesians whose lives were confirmed to have been saved.
Investigators have opened a criminal probe into possible violation of maritime transport rules and also carried out searches in the offices of Vostok-1 in Vladivostok.
The emergencies ministry said that air and sea searches were under way for the remaining seven crew but that these would now be adjourned for the night.