A desperate search was underway on Monday for 26 crew members feared dead after their wind installation vessel broke in two in typhoon conditions in the South China Sea.

The 204-metre Fujing 001 sank off Guangdong province on Saturday.

Hong Kong’s Government Flying Service, which dispatched six helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft was first on the scene and rescued three crew members, despite the weather conditions hampering the search and rescue operations.

Guangdong Marine Rescue Centre also joined the operation, sending more than 30 vessels in search of the missing crew.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday that a fourth seafarer had been rescued but hopes for the remaining crew members were described as “slim”. Later in the day Guangdong authorities confirmed that they had recovered 12 bodies.

The 204 by 42-metre vessel, equipped with a giant crane with lifting capacity of 2,000 tonnes, is owned by Shanghai Huajing Zhiyun Engineering, which specialises in offshore vessel operation and maintenance.

The Yangjiang municipal government in June said that Fujing 001 was involved in installation work at two offshore wind farms owned by Qingzhou Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Guangdong Yudean Group, Guangdong’s largest power generating company.

The two projects have a combined capacity of 1GW. Qingzhou 1 of 400MW is being installed in water depths of 35 to 38 metres, 50km offshore. Qingzhou 2 of 600MW is located 55km offshore in depths of 37 to 43 metres.

Typhoon Chaba is China’s first typhoon of the year, which forecasters have predicted will bring record rainfall and high risks of natural disasters in areas such as heavily-populated Guangdong.

Journalists from Recharge's sister titles Upstream and Tradewinds contributed to this article.