At least four people died and nearly three dozen were missing after a passenger ferry went up in flames off Indonesia’s Java island, authorities said.

The boat was travelling from Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya to Balikpapan on Borneo island with some 277 people aboard when it caught fire on Thursday evening, according to police.

Television images on Friday showed plumes of black smoke pouring out of the boat, as search teams hunted for the missing passengers after scores were rescued.

East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera confirmed on Friday that at least four people died in the accident and dozens were unaccounted for.

Earlier, Syachrul Nugroho, a spokesman for Surabaya’s Tanjung Perak port, gave a lower figure for the number of missing.

“We don’t know if they’re still on the boat,” he said.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.

Mr Nugroho said it appeared a fire had broken out and the ferry’s power went down, cutting off its water pumps.

“The crew couldn’t extinguish the fire because the water pumps weren’t working so passengers started to abandon the ship,” he added.

Passenger ferries are a common means of transport in Indonesia, an archipelago of some 17,000 islands, despite poor safety standards and frequent accidents.

In June, 21 people died when an overloaded ferry sank in rough seas off Java’s north coast.

Some 160 people drowned when an Indonesian ferry sank into the depths of one of the world’s deepest lakes on Sumatra island last year.

More than 300 people are estimated to have drowned in 2009 when a ferry sank between Sulawesi and Borneo.