April 13, 2013
Rough seas with waves of three- to four-metres prevented a search being launched off Indonesia yesterday as hopes faded for the rescue of 52 asylum seekers still missing after their boat sank earlier this week.
Confusion over the missing boat has extended into the second day, with search and rescue officials in Indonesia now saying there is “no solid information” about 14 people thought to have survived.
Up to six Afghan asylum seekers bound for Australia on the boat of 72 are believed to be confirmed drowned.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has blamed the continued arrival of asylum seeker boats on the Gillard government’s failed policies, including its “trashed” relationship with Indonesia.
Rochmawi, a spokesman for Indonesian search and rescue agency Basarnas, said a boat was standing by at Ujung Genteng on the southern coast of Java in case the weather improved.
However, without more information from Australian authorities about the exact location of the missing boat it would still be difficult to mount a search.
“It’s very difficult for us to look for a boat without exact coordinates. It’s such a big coverage area,” Mr Rochmawi said.
“That’s why Basarnas has so far only issued a radio bulletin to shipping in the area. But nobody has responded yet. I think with such big waves in the last few days, no fishing boats have been willing to go to sea.”
“It is impossible for us to simply go to sea and look for the boat without solid information on the exact location. But we have informed the Air Force and water police in nearby area in Sukabumi and surrounding to be stand by if … we get clearer information.”
Mr Rochmawi said Basarnas had also been told by a local fisherman called Rahman that fishermen had helped boat survivors.
Habibullah Hashimi, who is reported by AAP to be one of 14 men plucked from the water by fishermen off the coast of Sukabumi, said the boat sank on Wednesday morning and the men had been in the water for 24 hours before help came.
“The ship just broke,” Mr Hashimi said. “We saw about five people dead. They were in the water.”
Mr Hashimi’s group had linked arms as they struggled to survive.
“The sea kept moving us around,” he said.
Mr Hashimi, who was recuperating in Bogor, about two hours drive from Jakarta, said the boat only travelled for about about nine hours after setting off for Christmas Island before it sunk.
It was initially believed to have gone down early on Friday morning.
Mr Abbott, speaking in western Sydney, said: “Now the awful truth is that as long as the boats keep coming, the drownings will happen.”
‘‘Regrettably the current government has trashed our relationship with Indonesia with things like the live cattle export ban in the panic of a television program,” Mr Abbott said.
“We need to always maintain the option of turning boats around where it is safe to do so and we have to have much better relations with Indonesia because most of the illegal boat arrivals transit through Indonesia,” he said.
It’s understood the boat was arranged by a notorious people smuggler called Sikandar, who also arranged a boat that sank last October with 33 people who died.
The sole survivor of that boat, Habib Ullah, told Fairfax Media on Friday: “The same smuggler confidently threw another 60 or probably 70 people in the Indonesian waters. This is really another unfortunate story”.
– with Emma Partridge