A ferry carrying up to 350 people has sunk in stormy weather near the eastern Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea. An international rescue effort is under way, with vessels and aircraft from Australia joining the search.
At least 200 survivors have been rescued after a ferry carrying up to 350 people sank off Papua New Guinea's eastern coast on Thursday morning. Neighboring Australia has sent rescue vessels and helicopters to assist in the rescue operation.
"This is obviously a major tragedy - 350 people on board a ship that has gone down," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters in Melbourne. "It is likely a very high loss of life here."
The ferry was en route between Kimbe on the island of New Britain and Lae on the mainland of the eastern Pacific nation and got caught in bad weather.
When the ship's distress beacon was initially detected early Thursday morning local time, the Papua New Guinea Maritime Rescue Coordination Center was alerted by Australian authorities. The center is coordinating the rescue effort. The rescue's coordinator could not confirm the number of passengers on board the ferry, but said it could be slightly less than 350.
An airplane equipped with several life rafts has arrived on the scene from the Australian state of Queensland.
The MV Rabaul Queen is operated by Star Ships.
mz/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa)