Ferry reported to have sunk off Papua New Guinea
A ferry is believed to have sunk off the coast of Papua New Guinea with more than 350 people aboard.
According to media reports in Australia the shipping company Star Ships lost contact with the MV Rabaul Queen early Thursday morning while it was travelling between Kimbe and Lae in the Pacific country's east.
A spokesman for Star Ships told AFP he believed it had sunk in bad weather.
"(There are) survivors. At the moment rescuers from Australia are at the site. No fatalities have been reported yet," he said. An Australian search and rescue plane was sent to fly above the scene. One website has reported over 220 people have so far been rescued.
A spokeswoman for Australia's foreign office said: "The shipping company advises that they do not believe that there were any foreigners on board, but our High Commission is seeking to confirm this, including whether any dual nationals may have been affected.
"The government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is managing the response to this incident. Local rescue efforts are currently under way."
Four ships and a helicopter were reported to have arrived at the scene but Marti Mosi, the head of PNG's National Disaster Centre, said it was "very difficult to say" what may have caused the ship to sink.
"Is it weather, is it overloading or is it something to do with the vessel itself? We do not know but that will certainly come to light very soon," he said.
Star Ships, among PNG's largest passenger ship operators, runs regular services to the nation's outlying islands including to New Britain's Kimbe, a popular dive site that attracts tourists from across the world.
The incident comes weeks after the Costa Concordia, an Italian cruise ship, ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, killing at least 17 people.