03/01/2015 14:06 GMT | Updated 03/01/2015 14:59 GMT

Fears As Cargo Ship Overturns In Storm Off Scottish Coast

A major rescue operation has been launched after a cargo vessel believed to be carrying eight people overturned off the north of Scotland.

Four lifeboats, two rescue helicopters and other vessels are searching for the crew of the vessel whose upturned hull was found by a passing ferry in the Pentland Firth.

Shetland Coastguard was contacted by the ferry at around 2.30pm to report that the hull of the vessel had been found, although there were no survivors in the immediate area.

A RNLI lifeboat, similar to those searching for the overturned vessel

The cargo vessel was last seen at 1pm yesterday.

The Wick, Thurso, Longhope and Stromness RNLI lifeboats, the Coastguard rescue helicopter from Shetland, an RAF rescue helicopter and other vessels in the area are involved in the search in the east of the Pentland Firth.

Bill Farquhar from RNLI Thurso told BBC news that the NorthLink ferry Hrossey had spotted the hull of the vessel around 10 miles east of the Pentland Skerries, about 15 miles from Wick.

He said the last known position of the ship had been at 1.15 pm yesterday, adding: "The weather at that time yesterday was pretty bad.

"I don't know what has happened after that. There was no mayday as such.

"It is very, very strange, especially with all the weather technology we have nowadays."

Mr Farquhar said: "Whatever happened, it happened very rapidly."

He said the ship is approximately 83 metres long, and is understood to be a Cypriot-registered bulk cement carrier.

The RNLI lifeboats are looking for wreckage, life rings, bodies or people in the water.

"Conditions are very bad indeed," he added.

RNLI lifeboat crews from Thurso, Longhope and Stromness are currently searching for survivors in the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and John O'Groats.

The Wick lifeboat is standing by the upturned vessel, waiting for the arrival of a tug which will tow the ship back to land.

The vessel is understood to be the Cemfjord, which had been bound for Runcorn, Cheshire, on the west coast of the UK.