The BBC reports the boat is the MV Skagit, a former Washington state passenger-only ferry that was used on the Seattle-Vashon Island run.
Mwinyihaji Makame, a deputy minister in the office of the president, said Wednesday it remained unclear how many passengers were on board, but witnesses said the ferry carried more than 200 people when it sank.
The ferry was leaving the Tanzanian port city of Dar es Salaam and was headed for Zanzibar, which is popular with tourists.
Makame said a rescue effort was on and that police were investigating what caused the accident.
Last September more than 200 people were killed when a crowded ferry traveling between two islands of Zanzibar sank off the East African coast. Officials described it then as the worst accident in Tanzania's maritime history.
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