Hope fades for 100 missing from capsized asylum seeker boat

Saturday, 23 June 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

AustraliaN.com: More bodies have been spotted in the water near the asylum-seeker boat that has capsized between Christmas Island and Indonesia.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said there were 90 to 100 people still unaccounted for, while the number of survivors had been revised down from 110 to 109 after an official count had been conducted on Christmas Island.

 “The survivors were put on four different vessels and once we were able to do a full and proper count back on Christmas Island we were able to confirm that it was in fact 109 survivors rather than 110,” Clare told Sky News.

He said the public “should brace for more bad news” on the number of those deceased.

 “No good news. I can’t report that (surveillance aircraft) have seen people alive in the water at this point in time,” Clare said.

“This is looking increasingly grim by the hour,’’ Clare also told Macquarie Radio.

A plane that had flown over the area had spotted more bodies in the water, plus debris and life jackets in the area.

“Some (of the lifejackets) are floating on their own, some of them that have people wearing them and they have identified more bodies in the water,’’ Clare said.

“It’s pretty rough water out there, we are still in that critical window.’’

A Royal Flying Doctor Service jet was due to leave Christmas Island with three of the survivors of the tragedy on board, a RFDS spokesman told The Australian. The three, all believed to be Afghani men, were the most seriously injured and would be taken to Royal Perth Hospital after arriving at about 8 p.m.

Clare said it appeared that all of the people aboard were from Afghanistan.

“We have something in the order of 90 to 100 people who are still unaccounted for,’’ he said.

A 13-year-old boy is among the passengers of the vessel to have been rescued, while the bodies of three men have been recovered. Australian authorities believe the boat originated in Indonesia, not Sri Lanka, as initially suggested by some in Indonesia. The boat was dangerously overcrowded, sources said.

Several of the survivors are in hospital on Christmas Island and are said to be in a serious condition.

A team of Australian Federal Police investigators is en route to the island.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has held out the prospect that asylum seekers could be rescued despite fears that many lives may have been lost.

“It is still possible for people to have survived in the water,” Gillard said today on the sidelines of a UN sustainable development conference in Rio de Janeiro.

She said Clare had direct advice on how long it was possible for people to survive if they managed to escape the capsized vessel.

The Prime Minister said she had already spoken briefly with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Indonesian and Australian authorities would work together to co-ordinate the search and rescue operation.

Smuggling sources in Jakarta said three people-smuggling agents, known as Abu Ali, an Iraqi, and Sikandar and Irfan, both Afghans, were aboard the boat, which was due to arrive on Wednesday. It is understood smugglers are preparing to send another boat, also carrying 200 people, from Java to Christmas Island this weekend.