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Malaysian authorities raised to 23 the tally of people missing after an overloaded passenger ferry sank as it was sailing along a river in the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo.

Another 181 people were rescued several hours after the accident, which occurred at a spot with rapids on the Rajang River as it passes by the town of Belaga in Sarawak province, local police chief Bakar Sebau told the Bernama news agency.

The ferry, the capacity of which was 67 passengers, was traveling downriver with about 200 people on board, several of whom were sitting on the roof, when it hit some rocks and sank.

Most of the passengers were returning to their villages to celebrate the Gawai harvest festival this coming weekend, the most important ceremony of the year for members of the Dayak tribe.

The Malaysian provinces of Sarawak and Sabah occupy the northern portion of Borneo, while the remaining 73 percent of the island belongs to Indonesia. The Rajang River is Malaysia's longest watercourse, running for about 563 kilometers (349 miles). EFE