Mitsui ship is ablaze in middle of Pacific Ocean

A Japanese-owned car carrier bound for Hawaii was ablaze Wednesday in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with four sailors feared dead and one other missing, according to the US Coast Guard.

The captain of Sincerity Ace reported a major fire aboard the Mitsui OSK Lines-operated carrier and an intent to abandon ship after efforts to control the blaze failed.

Sixteen crew members, including the captain, were rescued by nearby merchant vessels. Of the five remaining members, four were "unresponsive and unable to grab onto lifesaving equipment to be brought aboard" and one was still missing, the Coast Guard said.

A search for the missing crew member is being conducted. The Coast Guard deployed two planes to assist with the rescue and another was dispatched by the US Navy from Japan.

The fire broke out on New Year's Eve, 2,070 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, which is about half the distance to Japan. The 650-foot-long ship, owned by Japan's Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., was en route to Honolulu from Yokohama, Japan, and lost power. The owner has dispatched tow boats to salvage the ship.

"The vessel is still on fire and listing," said Sara Muir, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Honolulu. "The weather is a little better today than before but the tow boats are still days away."

Five merchant ships were involved in the rescue of the Sincerity Ace's sailors. The vessels are part of the Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System – a world-wide voluntary reporting system sponsored by the Coast Guard.

"We are thankful for the assistance the crews of these merchant vessels have given us during this event, significantly reducing possible response time," a spokesperson for the Coast Guard's Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu said. "Their quick actions provided for the rescue of 16 members of the crew, who would otherwise still be in the water, and are continuing to aid us."

Weather conditions on the scene were reported as 15- to 18-foot seas and winds of 17 miles an hour during the initial rescue operation. Ms. Muir said the seas on Wednesday were 4-to-5 feet with winds of about 5 miles an hour. (WSJ)