A South Korean freight ship carrying fuel exploded in the Yellow Sea on Sunday morning, killing three crew-members and causing eight others to go missing, Yonhap news agency reported, referring to the Coast Guard.

The 4,191-ton vessel Doola No. 3 exploded in waters three miles north of Jawol Island near the port city of Incheon at around at 8:05 a.m. Five people aboard the ship were rescued.

A total of 11 Korean and five Myanmar crewmen were aboard the tanker, the agency said, referring to the Coast Guard.

Doola Shipping, which operates the ship, said the explosion could have taken place while gas was being drained from the oil tank.

"The vessel usually transports diesel, but this time it carried gasoline. We are now examining whether it had any relation to the explosion," the agency quoted a company official as saying.

After departing from Incheon port, the tanker headed for Daesan port in South Chungcheong province. Before the departure, the tanker unloaded 6,500 tons of gasoline at Incheon port.

The South Korean Coast Guard has dispatched a batch of patrol and rescue ships to search for the missing crew.