Eight crew members are feared lost at sea after the cement carrier Cemfjord capsized and sank in the Pentland Firth, off the north coast of Scotland.

There has been no sign of the missing crew despite extensive search efforts involving RNLI lifeboats, two helicopters, coastguard rescue teams, fixed wing aircraft and HMS Somerset, plus other vessels in the area.

The search began around 2.30pm on 3 January when the vessel was found capsized, by a passing ferry.

The bulk carrier had a crew of eight – seven Polish nationals and one Filipino.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: ‘The families of the missing crew have been notified.

‘Shetland Coastguard will continue to broadcast messages to all shipping requesting that they are informed about any information or sightings that could be related to the vessel.’

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch is investigating the cause of the incident.

The sunken ship is lying more than 200ft down, and strong currents and dangerous seas mean that it might be too dangerous to recover the vessel.

‘A challenging search operation’

Search teams covered the area between Orkney and John O’Groats until late on Saturday before resuming the search on Sunday morning.

The lifeboat volunteers covered an area of 200 square miles in a painstaking search until they were stood down on Sunday afternoon by Shetland Coastguard, who co-ordinated the search and rescue operation.

An air and land search involving rescue helicopters and coastguard rescue teams from Kirkwall, St Margaret’s Hope, Duncansby, Scrabster and Wick then continued.

Andrew Ashton, RNLI divisional operations manager, said: ‘The RNLI crews from Thurso, Wick, Longhope and Stromness have worked tirelessly to search a massive area.

‘This has been a challenging operation for all our RNLI volunteers and the other rescue organisations involved and our thoughts are very much with the missing men and their families at this time.’