The boat was on a two-day journey along Haiti's southern peninsula, transporting passengers, food and charcoal to Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

It made several stops to take on passengers and cargo and was "overcrowded," according to Wimhurst.

Lavilette said rescuers were not able to reach the stricken vessel quickly because the closest rescue boat had run out of fuel.

Many people on Haiti's coastline use ferries as the country's roads are in a poor condition.