At least 54 crew on a Russian fishing trawler died and 15 were missing after it sank in freezing waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Western Pacific Ocean late on Wednesday, officials in the area said.
Sixty-three of the 132 people on board the Dalniy Vostok were rescued with the sea's temperature near zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), Viktor Klepikov, coordinating captain of the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky maritime rescue coordination center, told Reuters.
"The rescue operation is going on, we are still looking for 15 people," Klepikov said. "At this time we do not know what might have caused the tragedy."
Russia's TASS news agency cited a deputy head of the Kamchatka region as saying the crew might have violated safety rules by exceeding the capacity of cargo storage.
"According to preliminary information, the shipwreck occurred while hauling a 100-tonne fishing seine," TASS cited Sergei Khabarov as saying.
The Russian Interfax news agency cited an unidentified source at the region's rescue center as saying that large amounts of drifting ice might have damaged the body of the ship, which sank within 15 minutes.
Russia has a dismal air, road and water safety record, with negligence and corruption often the cause of accidents. In 2011, an aging, overcrowded tourist boat sank in Russia's Volga River, killing nearly 130 people in one of the worst post-Soviet ship disasters.
The trawler was carrying 78 Russian nationals, as well as 54 foreign nationals from Myanmar, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Vanuatu.
It sank in the Sea of Okhotsk, 330 km (205 miles) west of Krutogorovsky settlement in the Kamchatka region and 250 km (155 miles) south of the city of Magadan.
The home port of the trawler, which was owned by Magellan LLC, was Nevelsk in Russia's Sakhalin region.