April 13, 2013
GRAVE fears remain for up to 60 asylum seekers whose boat reportedly sunk en route to Australia, with Indonesian authorities still scrambling to launch a co-ordinated rescue effort.
The boat is thought to have been carrying as many as 72 people when it hit rocks off the coast of West Java.
Indonesian search and rescue agency BASARNAS today said it did not have enough information to begin an aerial search.
A number of asylum seekers were reportedly rescued by local fishermen after the boat sank in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra but it is thought scores are missing.
Survivor Habibullah Hashimi, 29, said at least five people had drowned but he was unable to pinpoint the location of the sinking.
The boat was reportedly carrying ethnic Hazara from Afghanistan, and had been heading for Christmas Island.
BASARNAS investigation team leader Rohmali said details were scarce.
“We need solid information to start deploying helicopters and boats,” he said.
An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman told News Limited they had not had any requests for assistance from BASARNAS.
“Because this incident is in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone there’s no obligation for BASARNAS to provide us with information,” she said.
“We haven’t had any involvement in any search and rescue operation, and we haven’t had any requests for assistance.”
Exactly when the boat sunk remains unclear.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor declined to comment on the incident.
In August last year, BASARNAS was criticised over its response to the sinking of an asylum seeker vessel in the same area.
More than 100 asylum seekers drowned on that occasion and it was later revealed that an aerial search was not launched until six hours after the first distress call.
Earlier this week, a boat carrying 66 asylum seekers arrived in Geraldton, on the West Australian coast, shocking locals and onlookers.