June 24 (UPI) -- Six crewmembers of a North Korean fishing vessel were rescued after it sank but four people were missing, according to multiple press reports.
South Korea's coast guard said Monday some of the crew of the boat that sank on Saturday were rescued by a ship registered in Panama, a 26,000-ton vessel that happened to be passing through an area about 288 miles east of the North Korean port city of Rason, Yonhap reported.
The coast guard was apprised of the sinking after the Panamanian ship contacted a Chinese ship insurance company. The Chinese firm then alerted a maritime insurance firm in South Korea, according to the report.
After the rescue, the Panamanian ship transferred the six North Koreans to the Japanese coast guard, in an area about 73 miles east of the Dokdo Islets in the East Sea.
The Japanese coast guard said the rescued crew was transferred to a North Korean merchant ship sailing through Japanese waters on Monday at 6:15 a.m.
A South Korean coast guard representative told Yonhap the plan was to initially transfer the men at the South Korean port of Busan, but plans changed when the rescuers met Japan's coast guard at sea.
Russian news agency Tass identified the Panama-registered ship as the Blue Balance. The rescue took place in an area 141 miles southeast of Nakhodka Port in the Russian Far East, according to the report.
Vladivostok's Maritime Rescue Coordination Center said the North Korean boat began to sink slowly after being hit by a heavy storm on June 15.
North Korean fishermen are venturing out to the high seas amid what the regime has described as a severe food shortage in the country.
Countries have offered donations of rice, and a 5,000-ton donation of the staple crop from Vietnam was recently delivered to North Korea, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun reported Monday.
Kim Jong Un reportedly requested donations during his trip to Vietnam in February, according to reports.