Nine asylum seekers believed to have drowned

June 8, 2013 - 8:31PM
Natalie O'Brien, Michael Bachelard
Brisbane Times

Nine aslyum seekers have died after their boat capsized north-west of Christmas Island, prompted renewed criticism of Australia's response to boats in distress.

A Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft sighted the people in the water.

Former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin asked why there was an almost 46-hour time lag from the time the boat, with up to 60 people on board, was reported "overdue" on its journey from Indonesia and the mounting of a search-and-rescue operation.

A search was still under way on Saturday night for survivors from the boat, believed to have capsized on Friday.

The alarm was raised with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority by Customs on Friday night almost 12 hours after debris was reportedly spotted floating in the water from the boat, which had been reported days earlier as being "overdue" on its journey from Indonesia.

There was an unconfirmed report one body had been seen in the water.

A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said on Saturday afternoon Border Protection Command was searching an area about 65 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island for a possible foundered vessel. The navy frigate HMAS Warramunga was co-ordinating the search.

Australia's Rescue Co-ordination Centre put out calls on Friday asking for ships to report sightings of the vessel.

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