Eighteen survivors were rescued by fishing boats, but the fate of the others remained unclear, said Taufik, a port official at Parepare on the island of Sulawesi, where the ferry began its journey. Taufik uses one name, as is common in Indonesia.
About 250 passengers and 17 crew are believed to have been onboard the ferry when it went down 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the coast off western Sulawesi. Indonesians generally don't know how to swim and it was feared that most onboard would have drowned.
Transport Minister Jusman Syafi'i Djamal said the captain — who was among those pulled alive from the sea — reported that 150 people jumped off the boat before it sank, but he did not know what happened to them.
"We have prepared a search and rescue operation, but now there are high waves hampering the process," Djamal said.
The 700-ton Teratai Prima sank en route from the western port of Parepare on the island of Sulawesi to Samarinda, East Kalimantan, on the Indonesian half of Borneo.
The ship, carrying around 18 tons of cargo, radioed that it was "hit by a storm" before it went down, said Nurwahida, a port official.
Eighteen passengers and crew were saved by fishermen who found them drifting on three life rafts, Taufik said, citing a survivor's account.
The closest town to the accident site is Majene, about 850 miles (1,370 kilometers) northeast of capital, Jakarta.
Boats are a major form of transportation in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and a population of 235 million. Poor enforcement of safety regulations and overcrowding causes accidents that claim hundreds of lives each year.
In December 2006, a crowded Indonesian ferry broke apart and sank in the Java Sea during a violent storm, killing more than 400 people.