The Russian trawler the Dalniy Vostok went down in the Sea of Okhotsk, off the Kamchatka peninsula, 330 km (205 miles) west of Krutogorovsky settlement, at around 06:30 local time (20:30 GMT Wednesday).
56 people so far confirmed dead. The captain was reported to be among the dead. The trawler sank within 15 minutes. Sixty-three people have been rescued, many suffering from hypothermia, according to officials in Russia’s Far East, but 13 are reported missing.
The Dalniy Vostok freezer trawler had 132 people on board when it sank.
Seventy-eight of those on board were Russian and 42 were from Myanmar. The remainder were from Vanuatu, Latvia and Ukraine.
A captain of one of the 26 rescue ships taking part in the search said weather conditions were poor when the trawler went down, with snow, wind and waves of up to three metres (10ft) high. The water temperature was around freezing (32F).
A spokesman said survival in such waters was possible for up to 20 minutes.
“At this time we do not know what might have caused the tragedy.”
Water flooded the engine compartment and the trawler then sank within 15 minutes, a local branch of the Russian Emergencies Ministry said. The most likely theory, according to Russian investigators, is that the trawler may have hit some sort of obstacle because of damage near its engine room. Emergency services suggested that drifting ice may have holed the vessel.
A senior official in Kamchatka was quoted by Tass news agency as saying the boat foundered while trawling a 100-tonne dragnet. Sergei Khabarov said that safety rules might have been flouted with cargo limits being exceeded.
The ship did not send out a distress call before sinking, according to local media.
The 13 people who are still missing are thought to have been in the ship’s hold as the trawler sank, reported Tass.