One man has been found dead and five are missing after a Russian-crewed cargo ship sank in gale force weather overnight in the Irish Sea, the coastguard agency said on Sunday.

Two men clinging to life rafts were airlifted by a rescue helicopter co-piloted by Prince William a defence ministry spokesman said.

They were taken to hospital and a search was conducted across a 300 square mile (780 sq km) area of sea off the coast of north Wales before being abandoned as darkness fell.

The 81-metre vessel Swanland, carrying 3,000 tonnes of limestone, issued a mayday call at 2 a.m. reporting that its hull was cracking in the bad weather and taking on water.

William is serving as a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot at a base in Anglesey on the Welsh coast.

He has taken part in a number of previous rescues, the defence ministry spokesman said.

(Reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Philippa Fletcher)