Asylum seekers drown on way to Australia
September 28, 2013 - 12:02AM
Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media
About 20 people, mostly children under 15 years old, died when an asylum seeker vessel sank off the southern coast of Java on its way to Australia.
Adjunct Commissioner Warsono from the Agrabinta Police has confirmed that 25 people were rescued before the search was called off at nightfall.
He could not say how many more may still be missing, but some reports suggest it might be up to 80 people.
Commissioner Warsono said the small wooden fishing vessel was full of people from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and an African country.
"The children who died are both boys and girls. I think they died because they could not swim," Commissioner Warsono said.
"The boat was a complete wreck. The crew escaped and we don't really know how many passengers there were, ... it's still difficult to talk to them because they're still in trauma".
Different reports suggest between 73 and 125 people may have been on board.
Itís believed to be the first fatal attempted asylum-seeker crossing under the coalition government, and comes after another group of 44 asylum seekers were rescued by an Australian navy vessel in the Sunda Strait on Thursday.
The group rescued on Thursday, which included four children, were offloaded at Indah Kiat port at Banten in the western part of Java at 8am on Friday.
The two incidents come amid a ramping up in tensions between Canberra and Jakarta over the asylum seeker issue, and days ahead of talks in Jakarta between Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Zulkarnaen Siagian, the spokesman for Indonesian search and rescue agency Basarnas said the sea in the rescue zone was reasonably calm and the search would continue in the morning.
Voice of Lebanon radio reported yesterday that at least 60 people had drowned in the boat and that the bodies of victims were washing ashore.
Victims of the sinking who spoke to the radio station said their people smuggler's name was Abu Saleh, and that he had been arrested.
Most of the victims had come from the northern region of Akkar, particularly the town of Qabeit, the radio station reported.
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