Ferry sinks off Papua New Guinea; 350 aboard

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- A ferry carrying 350 people sank Thursday off northern Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, officials said.

SKY News television reported in Australia that the ferry had been found and that four ships and two helicopters were involved in a rescue operation.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Australia was providing its near neighbor with assistance.

"There has been a boat go down in PNG with, as we understand it, 350 people on board," Gillard told reporters. "This is obviously a major tragedy."

PNG's National Maritime Safety Authority said the ferry was between the northern coastal towns of Lae and Kimbe when it sent a distress signal early Thursday.