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Number of missing rises to 62 in Tonga ferry sinking

THE number of people missing after a ferry sank off the coast of the Pacific Island nation of Tonga has more than doubled to 62, New Zealand rescue authorities said today.

The search for survivors is continuing after the ferry sent a distress call at about 11 pm local time on Wednesday (1100 GMT), but hopes of finding further more people alive are fading.

Aircraft from the Royal New Zealand Air Force resumed the search at first light today along with three local vessels, Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand spokesman John Dickson said.

"Clearly survival rates after this length of time are of concern, but we remain hopeful of finding more survivors," Dickson said in a statement.

Two people have been confirmed dead, with 53 rescued and a remaining 62 still missing. Many of the missing are believed to be women and children, who were asleep below decks when the ferry sank.

Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Vaka'uta Sevele, attending a meeting of regional leaders in Australia, said there was now little hope of finding more survivors, the New Zealand Press Association reported.

"It' s a very sad day ... it's big for a small place," Sevele told NZPA.

Conditions in the area have deteriorated since the search began, although water temperatures are moderate at about 25 degrees celsius. The cause of the ferry sinking, about 86 kilometers (53 miles) northeast of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa, is not yet known.

It was first reported that 79 people were on the ship, but the number was revised up by Tongan authorities.

The ferry had been travelling from Nuku'alofa to Ha'afeva, in the Nomuka Islands group.


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