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Ferry sinks off Papua New Guinea; 150 missing

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times –

SEOUL, South Korea — Rescue crews have saved at least 200 people from the water off Papua New Guinea’s northeast coast after a ferry sank with some 350 people aboard, Australian and Papua officials said.

A television news station in Sydney reported that a half 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.

“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 after sending a distress signal early Thursday, Papua authorities said.

Australian officials detected the ferry’s distress beacon and alerted the PNG Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, which is organizing the rescue effort. Officials said 219 survivors had been recovered by five ships by late Thursday.

The cause of the sinking is unknown.

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