updated 7/10/2005 12:52:02 PM ET 2005-07-10T16:52:02

Heavy rains and 13-foot waves hampered rescuers searching Sunday for survivors from a ferry sinking that authorities said may have left up to 200 drowned off eastern Indonesia.

The 150-ton KMP Digul sank Thursday night off Papua province while heading from the port town of Merauke to Tanah Merah, about 125 miles to the north, said Sumpeno Juono of the local search and rescue agency.

The ferry officially was reported to be carrying 50 crew and passengers, but survivors said the number on board was five times that, Sumpeno told The Associated Press. So far, only 15 survivors — two crewmen and 13 passengers — have been found.

“We believe the number of missing passengers could reach almost 200,” said Sumpeno, who had little hope of finding survivors. Other officials agreed.

The ferry — which also was carrying vehicles, heavy equipment and 40 tons of diesel oil — did not have any safety equipment and sank quickly in choppy waters, he said.

Rescue operations were hampered Sunday by heavy rains and 13-feet-high waves.

Local television footage showed distraught relatives near the port in Merauke, as police carried injured ferry passengers on stretchers. Ambulances were standing by. Merauke is about 2,360 miles east of the capital, Jakarta.

Wunawan, a police official who interviewed relatives, also put the death toll at as high as 200 and a port employee said there were “many more people on board” than reflected on the ferry manifest.

“I don’t want to speculate on the numbers,” said Marbun of the Port Authority. “But there were many. We are still investigating.”

Boat accidents are common in Indonesia, a vast archipelago where safety rules are poorly enforced and rescue vessels are often unavailable.

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