An Indonesian ferry carrying 250 passengers sank after being battered by a large wave in bad weather in the country’s east on Sunday, officials said.

Eighteen people including one of the crew had been rescued, said Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the Transport Ministry.

Transport Minister Jusman Syafi’i Djamal said 150 people had been taken off the ferry, but their condition was unknown and he gave no further details. The discrepancy in the number of possible survivors could not immediately be clarified.

Officials said the ferry sank before dawn on Sunday.

“So far 18 people, including one crew member, have been rescued by a passing boat. We have dispatched a search and rescue team, navy patrol and others to find missing people,” Mr Ervan said.

“Based on interviews with the surviving crew member, the ship was hit by a huge wave which caused it to turn upside down.”

The ferry was travelling from Pare-Pare on the west coast of Sulawasi island to the city of Samarinda on Indonesia’s side of Borneo island when it ran into bad weather, said Taufik Bulu, head of maritime safety at Pare-Pare port.

He said the ferry was carrying 250 passengers and 17 crew.

Minister Djamal said there had been a tropical cyclone in the area at the time. Indonesia relies heavily on ferry services to connect the main islands in the archipelago, the world’s largest.

But accidents are common, largely because of years of under-investment in the country’s infrastructure and a tendency to overload ferries.

Indonesia has come under considerable pressure in recent years to improve its transportation sector following several serious accidents.

On Febuary 22, 2007, at least 42 people were killed when fire broke out aboard a ferry that was heading from Jakarta to Bangka island off Sumatra.

There have also been several accidents involving Indonesia’s domestic airlines, prompting the European Union to ban Indonesian carriers from its airspace.

– Reuters