REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- Rescue crews have rescued about 200 people from the waters off Papua New Guinea's northeast coast after a ferry sank with about 350 people aboard, Australian and Papua officials said.
A television news station in Sydney, Australia, reported that half a dozen ships and two helicopters had been called in on the rescue effort after the capsized boat was located off Papua New Guinea, an isolated island nation. The accident happened at least 10 miles offshore.
Officials said 219 survivors had been recovered by five ships by late Thursday.
"This is obviously a major tragedy," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters.
The ship MV Rabaul Queen sank while traveling between the coastal towns of Lae and Kimbe, Papua authorities said.
Australian officials detected the ferry's distress beacon early Thursday and alerted Papua's Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, which is organizing the rescue effort.
The cause of the sinking is unknown.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: Relatives of passengers aboard the Rabaul Queen wait for news at the Provincial Disaster Office in Lae, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Evah Kuamin / EPA