At least 33 people have drowned after an overcrowded ferry capsized in northwestern Myanmar, government officials said.

The vessel was carrying more than 200 passengers when it encountered bad weather and was hit by huge waves on its journey from the coastal town of Taunggok to Sittwe, capital of the western coast state of Rakhine, according to officials. The vessel called the Aung Tagun 3 sank late on Friday.

"The latest death toll is 33 -- four men including a monk and 29 women. At least 12 persons are still missing," a police officer in Sittwe town told the AFP news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We suspect that the boat sank because it was overloaded with goods," the police officer said, adding that the ship was listed as carrying 214 passengers and crew.

But locals said they feared the ferry was packed with unregistered ticket holders who would not have shown up on the ship's manifest, a common practice on the impoverished nation's often overcrowded ferry network.

"We don't know how many are still missing because some people were on board without official tickets," Hla Shwe, a local from Ngaputhone village, which lies a few kilometres (miles) away from where the ship went down, told AFP.

Rescuers have brought 167 passengers to safety. 

Search and rescue teams aided by Myanmar’s navy are scouring the capsize site for survivors.

Boat accidents are common in the country’s river deltas and coastal regions due to bad weather, cyclones and the overcrowding of poorly-maintained vessels. People in Myanmar often travel by boat because of the low cost and as many parts of the country are inaccesible by road. 

Source: Agencies