Chinese authorities are searching for four crew members missing from a cargo ship that hit a bridge in the city of Foshan.

The unnamed vessel was carrying more than 4,900 tonnes of rolled steel when the accident occurred at the Jiujiang Bridge on Monday night in Guangdong province, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Initial findings suggest the incident may have been caused by flooding upriver, local authorities said.

The ship was heading from Fuzhou to Heshan in Guangdong. The crew consisted of 11 people.

The vessel hit the base of a bridge pillar at 2120 local time and started to take on water in a cargo hold.

It later ran aground and sank two hours later.

Seven seafarers were rescued, according to the city’s emergency management department.

A total of 32 vessels and 400 personnel were involved in the search on Tuesday.

A further investigation has been launched.

Assessments carried out

No damage has been found to the main structure of the bridge, but safety assessments were being carried out on the pillar.

Zhan Qianshang, director of the Foshan Nanhai District Maritime Safety Bureau, told China Daily the accident occurred due to the improper operation of the crew on board.

This was due to the high water level and fast current in the river after rainstorms for several days, he added.

A pilot, the first mate, a chef and a rating were still missing, Zhan said.

Ships and vehicles were advised to avoid the area.

The 1,682-metre Jiujiang Bridge was built in 1985. It crosses the Xijiang River.

Six construction workers were killed when a Maersk-chartered container ship destroyed the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, US, last month.

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