Rescue teams searched in rough seas east of Newfoundland Tuesday for a Spanish fishing vessel that sank off Newfoundland with the loss of at least four of its crew while another 15 were reported missing.

Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, a spokesman for the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, said a distress signal was received just after midnight from a vessel located more than 460 kilometres east of St. John's.

Owns confirmed three survivors and four bodies were found in a life-raft by another Spanish fishing boat that was in the area. 

"Based on the location, it was the best outcome to have another vessel close by," Owens said.

A Cormorant helicopter, a C130 Hercules aircraft and the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Cygnus were joined by "a number" of Spanish fishing vessels in the area to search for the missing ship, Owens said.

"The weather is making it challenging," Owens added. "We are looking at four-metre waves and a quarter-mile visibility."

Owens was unable to confirm the name of the missing ship, but authorities in Spain have confirmed the vessel Villa de Pitanxo sank around 1 a.m. eastern time in rough seas. Spanish authorities said the vessel operates out of Spain's northwestern Galicia region. 

At least four of the 22-member crew are dead while three were rescued and 15 others were missing. Those rescued were in one of the vessel's four lifeboats, while two other lifeboats were found empty and the fourth was unaccounted for.

— With files from The Associated Press.