June 21, 2012
A BOAT carrying up to 200 asylum seekers has capsized north of Christmas Island this afternoon.
Australian searchers have seen survivors in the water with merchant ships racing to the scene of the disaster 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island.
The asylum seekers on the boat, which remains largely intact, are understood to be mainly from Sri Lanka, Sky News reported.
Today’s tragedy came after the arrival of another vessel, this one with 117 people, bringing this month’s arrivals to 18, and the number of people arriving to 11-hundred-and-eight
The boat has overturned in Indonesian waters and the Australian Government has offered assistance.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Search and Rescue Authority confirmed survivors had been spotted.
“There are survivors, we cannot confirm numbers at this stage,” she said.
Two Australian patrol boats are heading to the scene as well as a P3 aircraft.
Customs also confirmed the vessel was in the Indonesian search and rescue Region.
Indonesia’s BASARNAS was the lead authority for coordinating search and rescue efforts, while ASMA was organising the Australian end.
“Customs and Border Protection and Defence assets are being deployed,” Customs said in a statement.
This included a Defence aircraft equipped with life rafts, a Customs maritime surveillance aircraft, and two Armidale class patrol boats, HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong.
A number of civilian vessels were also responding.
The stricken vessel was spotted about 3pm this afternoon by a Customs surveillance plane.
Today’s tragedy brings back painful memories of the Christmas Island tragedy of December 2010 after more than 50 asylum seekers died when a boat known as SIEV 221 crashed into rocks.
Most of the passengers were Iranian or Iraqi nationals and the youngest to die was three months old.
The disaster was the largest loss of life in Australian waters in peacetime in 115 years.
As many as 200 people drowned last December when an overloaded boat sank off the coast of East Java on its way to Australia.
Just 49 people survived the tragedy, which occurred in rough monsoonal seas on December 17.
Timeline of boat disasters
At least eight drown after a boat capsizes near Malaysia
Up to 200 die when boat heading from Indonesia to Australia sinks
Up to 20 killed when boat capsizes off Java, Indonesia
Christmas Island boat crash claims 50 lives, including babies and children
Boat with 97 people on board goes missing
5 Sri Lankans drown off the Cocos Islands
Asylum boat with 105 Hazaras on board believed to have vanished between Indonesia and Australia
5 Afghan asylum seekers die when their boat explodes
More to come.