Asylum-seekers tell of Indonesia sinking ordeal as hopes fade for missing

Peter Alford
The Australian
September 28, 2013 3:47PM

SURVIVORS of an horrific sinking of a boat carrying asylum-seekers have told Indonesian officials they were deserted by their crew five days before the boat broke up and sank off the West Java coast.

One of the 28 asylum-seekers found alive said today they called a number in Australia for help as the boat was sinking "but nobody came".

Immigration officials tending to survivors said by phone today that 21 people were confirmed dead _ including seven children and nine women _ and more than 30 are missing, with hope fading for survivors.

Three people were found alive today, bringing the total survivors to 28, the Basarnas search and rescue agency said.

The Australian has been told by Basarnas that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority notified Jakarta about 6am local time yesterday of a boat in trouble off the West Java coast.

But one official said the Indonesians were unable locate the boat from the co-ordinates given by Australia. Locals in the coastal district of Argabinta reported seeing survivors about 3pm yesterday.

Details from the survivors and officials in Argabinta are incomplete and conflicting. A West Java police official said the boat was wrecked in heavy waves only 50 metres offshore of Cikole village.

He said there were so many drownings because most of the passengers from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and an African country could not swim.

But one survivor claimed they were in the water for about a day. He said many of the missing were children.

The West Java police official said the asylum seekers boarded on Sunday or Monday but the captain and a crew member were taken onto another boat as soon as they had been paid for the journey to Christmas Island.

The boat put off from Banten on the western Java coast and the asylum seekers were left with the boat for about five days.

It appears the boat's motor either broke or ran out of fuel soon after the crew deserted.

West Java police denied today they had arrested the smuggler responsible, who was named in some news reports today as Abu Saleh.

The sinking is the second fatal boat accident off the West Java since then prime minister Kevin Rudd announced in mid-July Australia was shutting its doors to any asylum-seekers arriving by boat.

Tony Abbott is due in Jakarta Monday afternoon for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Though Mr Abbott has tried to de-emphasise his new government's controversial program for rebuffing asylum seekers, this latest tragedy and a diplomatic blow-up, involving Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa, ensures the problem will be the focus of the PM's visit.


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