The Panama-flagged Danny FII sent a distress call on Thursday but by the time rescuers arrived the ship had sunk 11 miles off the coast.

It has been reported that crew members were from Britain, Australian, Russia, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Uruguay.

According to reports, 12 people have been rescued from rough seas out of the 83 aboard the cargo ship when it sank.

One of those rescued is reported to have said that the ship's captain was British and had not survived.

Vessels from the Lebanese navy and a UN peacekeeping force in the country were trying to find survivors from the sunken ship, which was believed to have been sailing from Uruguay to the Syrian port of Tartous.

An officer said Britain was asked to send two helicopters from Cyprus to help with the rescue efforts.