Ferry Sinks with 350 Passengers, Over 200 Rescued by Australian Authorities

A ferry carrying over 300 passengers has sunk off the east coast of Papua, New Guinea, prompting a massive rescue effort by Australian authorities.

The ferry, MV Rabaul Queen, sank this morning about 10 miles off Cape Fortification in the Vitaz Strait, according to CNN. Australian authorities have been helping with rescue efforts and have saved over 200 passengers from the sea.

Kevin Rudd, the Australian foreign minister, said that he is pleased that a number of people have been rescued, but showed concern for people who were still missing.

"We're deeply concerned about those who are still missing," Rudd said.

Eight rescue ships and three helicopters rushed to the rescue after an alert was sent out by the Rabaul Queen early Thursday morning.

The Australian maritime agency detected the ferry's distress signal and alerted the PNG Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, who is leading the rescue efforts, according to MSNBC.com.

Jurgen Ruh, the chief executive of Manolos Aviation Ltd., was flying one of the rescue helicopters. He said that the ship had completely sunk by the time he arrived, according to CNN.

"I could see the survivors on the debris," Ruh said.

He added that he could see about 10 life rafts, each holding about 10 people in them when he first circled the scene. When he came back from refueling, he spotted more survivors.

The ship was ferrying passengers from Kimbe, New Britian to the port of Lae on the Papua New Guinea mainland. It was carrying mostly students and teacher trainees, according to MSNBC.com.

Peter O'Neill, the Prime Minister of Papua, New Guinea said that the cause of the ship going down is unknown.

Ruh suggests that weather may have been a contributing factor to the ship's sinking. He said that there were high winds at the time in what is considered a notorious area, according to CNN. Ruh also said the ship being filled to capacity may have also been a factor.

According to the AFP news agency, the ferry operator, Star Ships, said the ship sank as a result of bad weather. Air and surface searches are expected to resume Friday morning.