Lithuania's defence minister says a Turkish vessel rescued Russian sailors after the flagship vessel sent out a distress signal following an explosion and fire on board.

Ukrainian military says it struck the Russian warship with Neptune missiles.
Ukrainian military says it struck the Russian warship with Neptune missiles. (AFP)

A Turkish ship has evacuated 54 personnel on board the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship cruiser Moskva, which was reportedly hit by Ukraine, Lithuania has said.

The rescue was carried out after the Russian cruiser sent out a distress call at night, a report of the Anadolu Agency citied Lithuania's Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anusauskas as saying on Thursday.

"At 1.14 am, the cruiser lay on its side, and after half an hour, all the electricity went out. From 2 am, the Turkish ship evacuated 54 sailors from the cruiser, and at about 3 am, Türkiye and Romania reported that the ship had completely sunk. The related loss of Russian personnel is still unknown, although there were 485 crew on board (66 of them officers)," Anusauskas said.

READ MORE: Sinking of Moskva warship big blow to Russian fleet – Pentagon

Moskva sinks

Russian defence ministry said the Moskva had sunk in a storm during towing after suffering damage to its hull from the fire.

The defence ministry had said earlier that the Soviet-era warship had been badly damaged by the fire. 

Ukraine, however, said the shipboard blaze resulted from its missile strike.

"During the towing of the cruiser 'Moskva' to the port of destination the s hip lost stability due to the damage to the hull received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition," the agencies cited the ministry as saying.

"In the stormy sea conditions, the ship has sunk."

Late on Wednesday, Maksym Marchenko, the head of Ukraine’s Odessa Regional Military Administration, said on Telegram that the Moskva was hit with two Neptune anti-ship missiles.

"Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship. Glory to Ukraine!" he said in his post.

He also claimed there were an estimated 510 crew members on board.

READ MORE: Will Russia take a new military approach in Ukraine?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies