UK coastguard helicopter (WikiCommons)
A search and rescue operation is underway.WikiCommons

A rescue operation is underway in the Channel after a fishing boat with four crew went missing.

The owner of the Belgian-registered vessel said he had not had contact with the crew "since lunchtime," the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

The Dover and Dungeness lifeboats and helicopter were searching for the boat about 10 miles off the Kent coast.

The fishermen are believed to be stranded in "very challenging" conditions after encountering rough seas and gale-force winds on Wednesday afternoon. The vessel's communications failed due to the extreme conditions.

A coastguard spokesman said: "The coastguard has notified other vessels in the surrounding area to remain vigilant and contact them if they locate anything.

"The weather conditions on scene are very challenging, with rough seas and gale force winds."

The Dutch coastguard said the Belgian fishing boat had a Dutch skipper. The three crew members are Dutch, Portuguese and Belgian.

A Coastguard Rescue helicopter is scouring an area in the southeast of the English Channel, along with two all-weather lifeboats and a French search and rescue helicopter.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: "The coastguard has notified other vessels in the surrounding area to remain vigilant and contact them if they locate anything."

The 40m long fishing trawler, a Belgium vessel with a Dutch skipper, was last reported at a location approximately 10 miles from Dungeness on the Kent coast.