Death on the seas: Worst ferry disasters

South Korean authorities are still searching for about 290 people missing after a ferry capsized in the country's south.

The ferry was carrying 462 people when it capsized en route to the resort island of Jeju, and there are fears it will be one of the country's worst maritime disasters.

Mass tragedy on the seas is not confined to wartime, and often exacerbated by overcrowding and lax safety standards.

Here are seven of the worst modern-day ferry disasters:

The Dona Paz, December 20, 1987, the Philippines: The Dona Paz ferry was packed with Christmas holiday travellers on their way to Manila when it collided with an oil tanker, causing both ships to catch fire and sink. It's estimated 4340 were killed and only 27 passengers survived, making the Dona Paz the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster. An official inquiry found the oil tanker Vector was unseaworthy, had no lookout and an unqualified captain.

Le Joola, September 26, 2002, Gambia: Overloaded Senegalese ferry Le Joola capsized off the coast of Gambia killing 1863 people. The Dakar-bound ferry was carrying nearly four times as many people as it was licensed to, and only 64 survived, the BBC reported at the time.

Al-Salam Boccaccio, February 3, 2006, Egypt: On February 4, the al-Salam Boccaccio 98 began to fill with smoke just hours after leaving Duba, Saudi Arabia for Safaga, Egypt. It sank in the Red Sea killing about 1400 people.

MV Bukoba, May 21, 1996, Tanzania: Licensed to carry 430 people, up to 1000 were killed when the Bukoba ferry hit rocks and capsized in Lake Victoria. Among the dead was high-ranking al-Qaeda militant Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, the New York Times reported.

Princess of the Stars, June 21, 2008, the Philippines: More than 700 people died when the Princess of the Stars ferry capsized off the central island of Sibuyan after being hit by Typhoon Fengshen. At least another 155 people were killed in floods caused by the typhoon.

The Meghna River, Bangladesh: The mighty Meghna River is home to two of the worst modern-day ferry disasters. In 1986, a double-decker ferry, the Shamia, sank south of Dhaka in high winds, killing 500 passengers. Another 500 people died on the same river in 2003 when MV Nasreen sank during heavy flooding.

The Cahaya Bahari, June 2000, Indonesia: The Cahaya Bahari ferry sank in a storm off Indonesia, killing about 500 passengers. Those on board were mostly refugees fleeing sectarian bloodshed on Indonesia's Maluku Islands. The Cahaya Bahari, which means "Light of the Ocean", was built to hold only 200 people. Some survivors were rescued after clinging to debris in the ocean for up to four days.

This story Death on the seas: Worst ferry disasters first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.