A ferry boat carrying workers home from a night shift split in two and sank after it was rammed by a barge, and at least 16 people drowned, officials reported Friday. A Red Cross source put the toll at about 38.

Jose Nava Ramos of the Minatitlan newspaper La Opinion said reporters had confirmed 27 died and said 16 people were rescued.Raoul Torres, spokesman for the Veracruz state governor's office in Jalapa, said the collision occurred late Thursday night after the workers had completed their labors at a sulfur mining operation.

Officials said the search for survivors was continuing but feared the toll would rise from the minimum of 16 dead.

A statement released Friday by the Azufrera Panamerica sulfur facility in Jaltipan and read to The Associated Press by telephone said 17 workers were killed in the accident.

Pedro Leetch Valcaza, operations director at the Jaltipan facility, said the cause of the accident had yet to be determined. But he said the swift current of the Coachapa River may have been a factor.

Divers from the Jaltipan mine pressed their search in the river Friday, said Torres. Jaltipan is about 300 miles east of Mexico City.

A Red Cross worker in Minatitlan, 12 miles east and upriver from the Jaltipan mining operation, said "about" 38 people drowned in the accident. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Torres told The Associated Press the vessel Liberty was carrying 41 workers who had completed their shift at the Jaltipan facility to Minatitlan when it was struck by the barge at 11:45 p.m. Thursday night.

The Liberty immediately split in half and sank in the rain-swollen Coachapa, taking some workers with it to the river bottom, Torres said. Others jumped into the water as the vessel sank, he said.

"Personnel on the barge tried to rescue those they could," he said. "It is possible there are more people missing."

He said reports from the remote rescue site were sketchy and that the ferry was the only means of transport from the plant in Jaltipan to Minatitlan. Nava Ramos of La Opinion said in a telephone interview that the 50-foot Liberty was carrying 70 workers when it was hit by the 66-foot barge Aspa 35 and that 35 people drowned, including the Liberty's captain, Mauricio Vidal. At least 16 people were rescued from the river, he said.