(Updates with survivors found in headline, second paragraph.)
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- A ferry carrying as many as 350 people sank off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
Merchant ships in the area rescued 238 people, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement. It didn’t say anything about fatalities. The area is experiencing strong winds and 5-meter sea swells, it said.
The MV Rabaul Queen sank at about 7:30 a.m. local time, about nine nautical miles (16 kilometers) off Finschhafen, while sailing between the Papua New Guinea towns of Kimbe and Lae, according to the Australian government. Australia, which neighbors the Pacific nation, arranged for ships to help with rescue efforts and deployed planes to search for survivors and drop life rafts.
Two Australian rescue aircraft will remain in Papua New Guinea overnight, the Australian safety agency said. Search efforts are expected to continue tomorrow, it said.
There will probably be a “very high loss of life,” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters in Melbourne earlier today.
The vessel was operated by Star Ships, the Australian Associated Press reported. Phone calls and e-mailed messages to Star Ships PNG Ltd. weren’t answered.
The number of people on board the ferry may be closer to 300 people, the Associated Press said, citing Papua New Guinea’s National Maritime Safety Authority.
--Editors: Neil Denslow, Vipin V. Nair
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