Hanoi: A Vietnamese cargo boat that vanished near the Philippines on Christmas Day has sunk, killing 22 of its 23 crew members, Vietnam state shipping firm Vinalines said on Friday.

"According to our initial information, only one sailor has been rescued and the vessel has not been found yet," a Vinalines official based in Hanoi said, asking not to be named.

The Vinalines Queen disappeared after passing Luzon island and apparently did not send out a distress signal.

Late on Friday online newspaper Dan Tri reported that the surviving sailor, Dau Ngoc Hung, was rescued by a British ship which was heading towards Singapore.

Vinalines said its ship was carrying more than 54,000 tonnes of nickel ore and was travelling from Indonesia to China when it lost contact.

Vietnam appealed to the Philippines, Taiwan and Japanese coastguards for help in finding the vessel, but had heard nothing from the ship until now.

"We are now focussing our efforts on searching for the Vinalines Queen," the company official added.

Rescue experts quoted in the local press said emergency equipment in the vessel should have automatically sent SOS signals to satellites and coastal rescue stations. It is not yet clear why none was transmitted.

The Japanese-built 190 metre Vinalines Queen was one of the largest and most modern cargo ships in the Vietnamese fleet, with a capacity of more than 56,000 tonnes. It had been in service for Vinalines since 2005.

Vietnam National Shipping Lines, or Vinalines, is one of the communist country's main state-owned enterprises.