Lives lost in asylum seeker boat mystery

Gemma Jones and Caroline Marcus
June 08, 2013 7:39PM

UP to 60 asylum seekers are feared dead after their vessel vanished off Christmas Island.

Debris has been found and a suspected body in a life jacket was sighted.

A maritime patrol plane spotted a vessel with people on the deck on Wednesday, but a Border Protection Command plane sent to its aid was unable to find it.

Radar and aircraft searches late Wednesday and on Thursday also failed to find it.

RAAF planes, navy vessels and merchant ships searched about 65 nautical miles north- west of Christmas Island, where the asylum boat was last seen.

The crew of an RAAF plane involved in the search and rescue mission spotted what looked like a body in a life jacket in the water about 8pm on Friday.

A navy vessel reached the scene of the sighting within an hour, but the crew was unable to locate the suspected body.

The first ships to arrive found debris.

No survivors or victims had been located by late yesterday afternoon with a navy ship and the MV Athena continuing to search.

Two planes were also scouring the sea. A third aircraft was expected to join the rescue effort which was being co-ordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare's spokesman said it was too early to confirm if a vessel had sunk or if there had been any loss of life.

Border Protection Command was searching 65 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island for a possible foundered vessel, the spokesman said.

The weather was fair off Christmas Island this week.

In the first week of June, 660 asylum seekers reached Australia with more than 11,300 arriving so far in 2013 with the record influx stretching Australian authorities.

The suspected sinking is the first since a boat went down near Java in Indonesia in April.

Only 14 survivors were plucked from the water from the vessel, which was carrying just more than 70 people.

The remaining passengers were never found with Indonesia conducting only a limited search.

In March this year, a four-year-old boy and a woman aged in her 30s drowned when a boat capsized in stormy seas 14 nautical miles north of Christmas Island.

Ninety-three refugees, including a pregnant ill woman in her 20s and a six-year-old boy, were among the stranded passengers rescued.

In June last year, 90 people drowned and another 93 were rescued after their vessel capsized north of Christmas Island.


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