Solomon Islands police confirmed Sunday that 27 people were believed to have been swept off an inter-island ferry which ignored weather warnings and sailed into a severe storm.
However, while a search of the area found plenty of debris, there was no sighting of any bodies, police superintendent Richard Menapi said.
The MV Taimareho, with more than 700 people on board, left Honiara on Thursday night for West Are'are, 120 kilometres (75 miles) away, as tropical cyclone Harold bore down on the Solomons and authorities warned against sailing.
The voyage was part of a government programme to evacuate people to their home villages during the global coronavirus pandemic. The Solomon Islands is
one of the few countries with no reported COVID-19 cases.
Before dawn Friday the Taimareho was hit by huge waves and it took authorities more than 24 hours to determine how many people were swept overboard.
"There were 738 passengers including crew and the captain on board but after the headcount it was confirmed that 27 people were missing with total survivors of 711 including the crew," Menapi said.
"Upon arrival at the search area there were a lot of debris sighted floating on the surface of the water but still no sighting of any missing people."
Tropical cyclone Harold was expected to hit Vanuatu late Sunday with the Vanuatu Meteorology service warning of "destructive" winds of up to 165 kilometres per hour, with rough to very rough seas and "people, including sea-going vessels are strongly advised not to go out to sea."