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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 19:38 GMT
Two feared dead in Canada sinking
Lifejackets from the Queen of the North float in the water near the Canadian coastguard vessel WE Ricker
A Canadian coastguard vessel searched the waters for survivors
Two missing passengers are feared dead after a ferry sank off Canada's Pacific coast, officials say.

They say 99 passengers and crew of the Queen of the North were rescued but the married couple are unaccounted for.

Officials earlier said the two had probably made their own way to the town of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, but now fear they went down with the ship.

The ferry is thought to have hit a rock near Gil Island, 80 miles (129 km) south of Prince Rupert on Wednesday.

We heard a crashing noise and the ship went to one side
Lawrence Papineau
Ferry passenger

A ferry company statement said earlier there were unconfirmed reports that the two missing people had got off rescue vessels at Hartley Bay and were making their own way back to Prince Rupert.

Officials now fear that earlier reports by witnesses - who said they saw the pair on shore among the other 99 rescued people - are wrong.

They say that no evidence has been found that the couple found their own transportation from Hartley Bay - a small fishing village accessible only by boat and air.

'Loud crash'

The Queen of the North was sailing through the Inside Passage, on a 15-hour journey from Prince Rupert to Vancouver Island, when it went down at about 0025 (0825 GMT).

Passengers described watching from lifeboats as the 125m (410ft) ferry sank in less than an hour.

"We heard a crashing noise and the ship went to one side," said Lawrence Papineau, quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

"Then it was a louder crash... and then everybody realised what was happening and the sirens went off."

The passengers were transferred from the life-rafts to local boats - some sent from Hartley Bay which had heard the ship's distress call - and carried to shore.

Several people with minor injuries were flown by helicopter to Prince Rupert.

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