NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga – The number of people missing and feared dead after a ferry sank in Tonga rose Friday to more than 60 and could jump further, police said, as the prime minister called tragedy a "major disaster" for his tiny country.
Police Commander Chris Kelly said the latest information was that the Princess Ashika was carrying 117 passengers and crew when it went down around midnight Wednesday, again hiking a figure that has steadily risen as authorities investigate.
Fifty-three survivors and two bodies were plucked from the Pacific, leaving 62 people unaccounted for, according to the latest count.
But the number of missing could still rise because authorities have not been able to reconcile the list of passengers and crew with the accounts of survivors.
"I'm not sure that that figure will stop" at 117, Kelly told reporters Friday. "There were clearly people on board who were not listed on the manifest that we have access to."
The cause of the disaster was not known. Survivors described the ferry rocking violently from side to side and waves breaking the lower deck before it went under, though officials said weather conditions were mild.
Many of those missing were women and children who were in cabins below decks and may have been trapped inside when the ferry flipped over and sank about 55 miles (85 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Nuku'alofa, officials say.
All the survivors are men. The body of a British man and a Polynesian woman were also recovered on Thursday.
A huge search resumed Friday, but there has been no sign of survivors since a few hours after the ferry capsized.
Tongan Prime Minister Feleti Sevele said the tragedy was "big for a small place."
"This is a huge disaster, a huge loss, we'll try and cope with it as best we can," he told reporters in Cairns, Australia, where he was attending a South Pacific leaders' summit.
Dozens of relatives and their supporters gathered on Friday outside the office of ferry company, the Shipping Corp. of Polynesia, hoping for good news, many of them weeping and hugging of each other for support.