[File photo/IC]

A No 116 South China Sea rescue ship was sent to pick up the 32 people who were onboard a sunken fishing boat hit by waves in Nansha waters.

The incident occurred 210 nautical miles south of Yongxing Island off Sansha city in Hainan province, said officials from the Hainan Provincial Maritime Bureau command center on Thursday afternoon.

The fishermen were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat at 10:20 am and transferred to a COSCO ship at 1:30 pm.

All 32 are in good physical condition, according to the bureau.

The rescue ship was expected to meet the COSCO ship by 6 pm on Thursday and take the fishermen back to Sanya at the southern tip of Hainan on Friday.

The Hainan Qionghai fishing boat got into trouble on a return voyage when it encountered strong winds and waves.

It sent an alarm for rescue at about 7 am and then lost connection as its signal on the Beidou system disappeared, according to the provincial maritime bureau.

Premier Li Keqiang, leaders with the Ministry of Transport and the Hainan provincial government sent instructions urging for a timely rescue.

An official with the bureau said emergency rescue work was launched immediately. The Sansha Maritime Bureau issued a navigation warning and asked passing ships to participate in the rescue, with COSCO ships sailing in the South China Sea joining the rescue work.

Local garrisons also sent warships and aircraft to help, and a fixed-wing rescue aircraft from Hong Kong rushed to the scene.