PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ A 235-foot gambling ship sent out to sea to ride out Hurricane Erin was missing and feared sunk, and crew members have been spotted in life rafts, the Coast Guard said today.

A skeleton crew was believed to be the only people on board the Club Royale when it set out Monday from the Port of Palm Beach to ride out the storm in the Atlantic.

A Coast Guard jet spotted 10 to 13 people in life rafts after an automated distress signal was received today, said Petty Officer Scott Carr in Miami. The Club Royale was about 90 miles east of Port Canaveral, he said.

The ship was not visible and was feared sunk, according to the Coast Guard jet crews responding to the alert.

``There are numerous life rafts in the water, but we don't know if anyone else is in them,'' Carr said. ``The ship itself we haven't spotted.''

Conditions for rescue were precarious: 10-15 foot seas and 45-55 mph winds, Carr said.

Hurricane Erin slammed ashore early this morning at Vero Beach, some 130 miles north of Miami and roughly 50 miles south of this port town near Cape Canaveral. The storm came ashore farther north than originally forecast.

Four Coast Guard helicopters were expected to reach the life rafts early this afternoon, and four cutters and the merchant ship Sheldon Lykes were due in the area by midafternoon.

Heading to sea is considered safer for a ship than staying in port, and standard shipping industry practice is to sail away from the worst weather.

Erin complicated that task with a rainy cloud mass stretching nearly the length of Florida, and some of the worst weather hit the area where the signal originated.

``It's up to the captain where to go. You either go north or east,'' said Ben Murphy, executive director of the ship's home port. ``You try to sail away from it. They were probably going to go north and then east.''

The ship, built in Germany in 1987, was equipped with blackjack and other casino games for two trips a day. Gambling is allowed after the ship gets three miles from U.S. shores.