This handout photo from Indonesia's National Rescue Agency (Basarnas) taken and released on July 24, 2023 shows members of a rescue team setting out to conduct search and rescue operations in Buton Tengah, southwest Sulawesi after a ferry sank. Image Credit: Photo by Handout / BASARNAS / AFP

Kendari: At least 15 people were killed and 19 more were missing on Monday after a ferry sank off the coast of Indonesia's Sulawesi island, search and rescue officials said.

The boat sank with 40 people onboard just after midnight local time (1700 GMT on Sunday), the local office of Indonesia's search and rescue agency said in a statement.

Six people were rescued and taken to hospital for treatment, it said, and the cause of the sinking was being investigated.

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"Provisionally, there are 19 people who are still being searched for," Muhamad Arafah, head of the local search and rescue agency in Kendari city in Southeast Sulawesi, said in a statement.

"The search will be conducted by dividing into two teams. The first team will dive around the accident site. The second team will conduct a sweep above the water surface around the accident site using a rubberboat and longboat."

It is common in Indonesia for the number of actual passengers on a boat to differ from the manifest.

Marine accidents occur frequently in the Southeast Asian archipelago of around 17,000 islands, where people rely on ferries and small boats to travel around despite poor safety standards.

In 2018, more than 150 people drowned when a ferry sank in one of the world's deepest lakes on Sumatra island.

In May last year, a ferry carrying more than 800 people ran aground in shallow waters off East Nusa Tenggara province and remained stuck for two days before being dislodged.

No one was hurt in that accident.