A FREIGHTER that has been used in the past to transport thousands of Sunderland-built Nissan cars was at the centre of a major rescue operation tonight.

The Baltic Ace is a regular visitor to the North-East and often transports Nissan Qashqais around Europe.

It was in collision with a Cyprus-registered container ship, the Corvus J, in the North Sea, around 60 miles off the coast of the Dutch port of Rotterdam.

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A Nissan spokesman said the ship was not carrying its vehicles on this occasion.

The Dutch coastguard was coordinating the operation to airlift the crew from the Baltic Ace. One news agency reported that 13 crew members had been rescued, but 11 were still missing.

Three lifeboats and two helicopters were on the scene and two naval frigates were also heading towards the accident site.

The Corvus J was said to be badly damaged, but not in danger of sinking.

The shipping lane where the accident occurred is one of the busiest in the North Sea.