Asylum-seeker boat bound for Christmas Island sinks after leaving Java, 18 still missing, feared dead

Paul Toohey in Java
Daily Telegraph
July 24, 2013 11:27AM

A BABY and a 10-year-old girl are among three people dead after an asylum-seeker boat carrying 175 people sank of southern Java. Eighteen are still missing, feared dead.

Local police say the death toll from this latest asylum—seeker calamity, which occurred when their boat failed and broke apart only five kilometres from shore on Tuesday afternoon, may not be as great as first believed.

They say there were 175 people on the boat, all of them Iranians and Sri Lankans. Police who descended on the area say they have accounted for 154 survivors, along with the two deceased and a baby, aged one, who has been taken to a hospital morgue.

But a Sri Lankan man Kujan, said he said he knew for certain there were 175 Sri Lankans on the boat and 65 Iranians.

The asylum--seekers spent six hours in rough seas until a local fishermen found them in the darkness, raising the alarm at 8pm. By then, according to one of the survivors, seven children had drowned.

The local hall in the fishing village of Cidaun is now a morgue and a place of despair.

Ali, 24, originally from Iran, looks over where two bodies lie under sarongs. One belongs a 10—year—old Sr Lankan girl. The other is his mother, Sarimah, who was aged 45. She died of a heart attack last night while floating with her family.

The recent origins of the Sri Lankan journey are unclear.

Ali said a group of six, being his mother, uncle, two brothers and little sister, arrived in Jakarta a fortnight ago.

He claims they were planning to apply for formal migration when they were approached by a smuggler in Jakarta who offered them passage to Christmas Island at $5,500 for each family member.

“They make it sound perfect, but once you give them the money, things change,” Ali said.

Ali said none of the Iranians had heard about Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution. He said they had been staying in Jakarta for 10 days, awaiting passage, in an information blackout. Their mobile phones had been removed and the room had no television.

The Iranians met the Sri Lankans for the first time as they arrived in mircobusses on the fringes of remote Ciudad, close to Christmas Island on the southernmost part of the west Java coast.

They were led down a muddy jungle track, where waiting local fishermen in the pay of the smugglers ferried them in their small fiberglass outriggers to the bigger smuggling boat.

“The boat they gave to us wasn’t good,” says Ali. “According to us, it was on purpose.”

The boat got underway around 9.30am yesterday. Ali said they were at sea for six or seven hours, but were not going anywhere fast because there was a hole in the boat. The boat started slowly sinking and until water went over the engines.

“They did not call the coastguard,” Ali said, as his uncle, Yusef, made heartbreaking calls home to relay the news about Sarmiah.

“We got some waves and in a few seconds it broke from the middle. We were in the sea for six hours with a rope and a tube, no lifejackets.”

Ali said there were insufficient lifejackets to go around; and the Iranians got hardly any of them.

“We called our smugglers to send us boats. He said he would.” But he didn’t.

Ali’s younger brother, Abdullah, said the boat broke apart it went down fast. “People died instantly, kids died instantly,” he said.

The family clung together, trying to keep up the spirits of their youngest member, Maha, a girl aged seven.

“Mum had a heart attack and died,” said Ali. “She survived for four hours and had a heart attack.”

We earlier found another Iranian man, Soheil, aged 23, recovering in a hall in Sukapura, a separate village further down the coast. He swam to shore with a group of 37 Sri Lankans.

He said he believed he was the only survivor of the 62 Iranians on the vessel, being unaware there were survivors at the time we spoke to him.

Soheil said the captain was a Sri Lankan man using a Malaysian crew.

“The captain go to small boat,” he said. “He no help me, he no help children, he no help baby.”

One Iranian identified their smugglers as Naseem, an Iranian, and Abu Yunis, an Iranian married to an Indonesian woman, whom operate out of Jakarta.

Police, using local fishermen, are still searching the sea for bodies.

It is likely that the same fishermen who ferried the asylum—seekers out to the bigger boat on behalf of the people smugglers were involved in the rescue.

News Corp Australia came to this village on Monday, having heard it was one of the most notorious departure points on the Java coast.

We spoke to local fishermen who admitted that smugglers used their services regularly, but they insisted no departure was imminent.

In this village, where everyone knows what’s going down, it seems they were being less than candid.

Yesterday morning, they pointed out a tiny speck on the horizon, admitting that it was a boat bound for Christmas Island, the same one that would soon founder.

Local police commander Dedy Kusama Bakti said they would investigate which local fishermen were involved.

Ali said his family would now return home, once arrangements could be made to repatriate his mother’s body.

Police said the survivors would be put in the hands of Indonesian Immigration.

Mr Rudd announced on Friday that asylum seekers arriving by boat would not be settled in Australia.

Detainees who are found to be refugees could be permanently settled in PNG, while those found not to be refugees could be detained in PNG, returned home if possible or be sent to a third country.

Authorities yesterday intercepted a boat carrying 38 asylum seekers off Christmas Island.

HMAS Bathurst found the boat west of the island after it was detected by RAAF maritime patrol aircraft.

Border Protection Command transferred the 38 passengers and two crew on board to Christmas Island for initial checks.

That brings to five the number of boats that have arrived since Friday's announcement.

All 337 passengers on board will eventually be sent to Manus Island for processing and possible resettlement.

NewsCorp Australia is moments from the scene and will provide updates as they come to hand.


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