Aerial view shows a merchant marine ship sailing past the Rock of Gibraltar in the Strait of Gibraltar
The Morning Ninni had been sailing across the Strait of Gibraltar REUTERS

The captain of a large Singaporean cargo ship was found adrift at sea and clinging to a life buoy off the coast of southern Spain after falling overboard, police have said.

Passers-by near the port of Tarifa – one of the world's best destinations for wind sports –spotted the man in the water on Monday (15 May) as he struggled to stay afloat in high winds and strong waves.

He was found by rescuers wearing only a white T-shirt and "gripping a rigid life buoy fitted with a beacon," police said.

"He presented signs of extreme hypothermia, bloated lips, face and eyes, and swollen eyelids due to exposure to the sun and salty water," indicating he had been adrift for several hours, according to the police.

The man, who has not been publicly identified, also had bruises and severe hip pain making the transfer to shore and hospital difficult, Spanish daily La Vanguardia reported.

Despite rough seas, he was rescued and taken to the Punta de Europa hospital in Algeciras, off the Bay of Gibraltar.

Officers later discovered the drifter was the captain of the Morning Ninni, a vehicle cargo ship from Singapore that had been sailing across the Gibraltar strait.

Police said the ship had alerted Spanish rescue services that a man "may have fallen overboard" on Monday morning.