A Panamanian-registered cargo ship sank in heavy seas northwest of Ireland on Wednesday and its 17 Korean crew members were presumed dead despite life rafts dropped by a rescue plane, the Royal Air Force said. Five bodies were recovered after an extensive search, said RAF spokesman Pat Coffey.

The 2,600-ton Secil Angola, which operates out of Japan and was hauling salt from Spain to Iceland, reported at midnight it was taking in water through an uncovered hatch and its engine rooms were flooding in severe gale force to storm force weather.The captain asked for help and two hours later an RAF Nimrod plane reached the scene, about 350 miles northwest of Shannon, Ireland, dropping six life rafts for the 17-man crew, said Coffey.