TOKYO: Japan is searching for eight Chinese crewmembers who went missing when their fishing boat sank after colliding with a Greek cargo vessel near disputed East China Sea islands on Thursday, the Japanese coast guard said. The coast guard, which dispatched a patrol boat and plane to the site after receiving a signal from the cargo ship, has rescued the six other members of the sunken vessel’s 14-strong crew, a coast guard spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse. “We’ve put priority on the search and rescue of the missing eight. We have not been able to determine the cause of the collision,” she said. China expressed its appreciation for the rescue efforts, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement. The accident comes after Foreign minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday called in Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, following what Tokyo calls “intrusions” by Chinese ships near the disputed islands for five consecutive days. “The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is markedly deteriorating,” he told Cheng, according to the ministry’s statement on its website. The two countries are locked in a long-running dispute over the uninhabited islets known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The Japanese coast guard on Monday caught sight of 15 Chinese coast guard ships near the islands — the highest number ever spotted in the area. Some 230 Chinese fishing vessels and seven coast guard ships, including four apparently carrying weapons, sailed into waters close to the disputed island on Sunday. Bilateral relations had improved over the past two years, but tensions over the islands have been a frequent irritant between the countries.