The tanker Freja Svea, which arrived on the scene where the Liberian-registered iron-ore carrier Marika 7 had sent out a distress signal, reported finding lights in the water but no crew members, said Dan Bedell, a coastguard spokesman. He said the 900ft ship left Sept Iles, Quebec, on Monday bound for the Netherlands and hit heavy seas about 935 miles (1,500km) east of Newfoundland.
But Mr Bedell added that the ship had carried several lifeboats and there was a chance that survivors could be found, although the rough conditions would make rescue difficult. 'In those kinds of stormy seas a rescue of any sort will be pretty rough,' he said. 'If the tanker comes to lower its rescue boats, they could be easily smashed against the hull of the boat because of the waves and winds.'
A Canadian Coast Guard Hercules aircraft was also on its way to the area to search for survivors, Mr Bedell said. On an earlier flight lights had been seen bobbing in the water where the ship had sent out distress signals, he said.
The Canadian Press news agency said a Canadian military plane spotted two life-rafts, but darkness made it impossible to tell if there were any survivors.