Investigators look for cause of fatal North Sea sinking

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Authorities from the Bahamas and Cyprus are investigating what caused two giant vessels to collide in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, sending one to the seabed and killing as many as 11 sailors.

Officials from Cyprus's accident investigation branch boarded the Corvus J, the Cyprus-registered container ship in the Dutch port of Vlissingen on Friday after it collided with the Bahamas-registered Baltic Ace on Wednesday night.

Little would be known until data recorders were recovered, including from the 23,500-tonne car carrier, which sank in 15 minutes in icy temperatures and 3.5-metre high waves carrying 24 crew and 1,400 cars.

No eyewitness accounts of the accident have emerged, but a Tweet quoted a sailor on a ship which responded to the Baltic Ace's distress call.

"We heard the captain of the Baltic Ace in a heavily emotional distress signal," said the sailor, who was not identified. "We are sinking. We are sinking. We need assistance. Help! Help!"

Thirteen crew were rescued on Wednesday night, including the Polish captain of the sinking ship. Six others are missing and presumed dead, the coastguard said.

Five bodies were recovered, two each from the Philippines and Poland and one from the Ukraine. There were also crew members from Bulgaria.

"It's a very serious accident, and you can't conclude anything unless you have the recordings," said Loannis Efstratiou, acting head of Cyprus's department of merchant shipping.

Dutch police on Thursday said the accident had taken place outside the Netherlands' territorial waters and that they had no jurisdiction to investigate the accident.

This leaves the duty to investigate with the countries in which the ships were registered.