A cargo ship sparked a coastguard rescue after it began taking on water and sinking in the Dover Strait.

The UK Coastguard received the Mayday call at 7.09pm yesterday evening that the Antigua Barbuda registered cargo vessel EMS Majestic, with seven crew on board, was taking on water and sinking 13 miles south east of Eastbourne.

A number of vessels transiting the area responded to Mayday Relay broadcast to provide assistance as required.

Coastguard rescue helicopters based at both Lee on Solent and Lydd have been sent to the scene along with Eastbourne RNLI lifeboat.  EMS Majestic received assistance from the tug, Thor Frigg and is currently under tow to Southampton.

For safety reasons, two crew members were airlifted from the vessel by Coastguard helicopter and will be repatriated to their vessel in due course.

A spokesman for Eastbourne RNLI said the all-weather lifeboat volunteer crew were paged at 7.25pm to attend the 90-metres long, 3,420-tonne stricken vessel, which was in danger of sinking in the busy shipping lane.

The spokesman said: ‘When the lifeboat arrived on scene the stricken vessel was beam-on to the weather and being swamped in rough seas and near gale force winds. The coastguard rescue helicopter from Lydd managed to winch two of the crewmen from the deck of the pitching ship whilst the lifeboat prepared to evacuate the others.

‘Fortunately the remaining crew succeeded in stemming the ingress of water and starting the ships salvage pumps and equally fortuitously a passing tug responding to the mayday diverted from its passage and was able to take the cargo ship under tow. Eastbourne ALB stood by whilst the tow was established and stabilised. The volunteer lifeboat crew were then stood down whilst the casualty vessel continued under tow to Southampton for repairs.’