A bulk carrier sank off the South African coast and rescuers were searching for 27 crewmen who remained missing Thursday, officials said.

The Alexandros T sank Wednesday night in heavy seas on its way from Brazil to China.

Countrywatch: South Africa

There were 33 crewmen aboard the ship, but only five managed to reach the life rafts in time, rescue coordinator Mark Hellenberg told the South African Press Association.

The other 28 crewmen were all wearing lifejackets, said Andre Botes, head of rescue operations. One of them was later rescued.

Botes told SAPA that a South African Air Force plane was searching the area off the coast between Port Elizabeth and East London. Another ship, The Fortune Express, had been only two nautical miles from the sinking ship and was also standing by to rescue the crewmen forced into the sea.