June 09, 2013 | GEMMA JONES WITH WIRES
THE bodies of 13 asylum seekers have now been sighted by Australian rescuers in the grim search for at least 55 men, women and children lost at sea off Christmas Island after their vessel vanished last week.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, who received a briefing on the operation earlier today, said bodies had been sighted from the air.
On Wednesday, the asylum seekers had been spotted by the crew of a maritime patrol plane waving on the deck of their boat and did not seem to be in distress.
That plane identified about 55 people on the boat’s deck, most were adult men, though the group did include some women and children.
When HMAS Warramunga arrived in the area early on Thursday morning, it couldn’t find the boat. Its submerged hull wasn’t spotted until Friday morning.
A Customs aircraft helping with the search saw nine bodies in the water on Saturday afternoon.
Another four bodies were found later in the evening.
The bodies are yet to be recovered as the search for survivors continues.
“This is another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder of how dangerous these journeys are,” Mr Clare said.
Authorities launched a large search involving RAAF planes, Navy vessels and merchant ships about 65 nautical miles north west of Christmas Island, where the asylum boat was last seen.
Crew of a RAAF plane involved in the search and rescue mission spotted what looked like a body in a life jacket in the water at about 8pm on Friday night.
A Navy vessel reached the scene of the sighting within an hour but the crew was unable to locate the suspected body.
The first ships to arrive found a debris field.
In the first week of June 660 asylum seekers reached Australia with more than 11,300 arriving so far in 2013 with the record influx stretching Australian authorities.
The suspected sinking is the first since a boat went down near Java in Indonesia in April.
Just 14 survivors were plucked from the water from the vessel which was carrying just over 70 people.
The remaining passengers were never found with Indonesia conducting only a limited search.
In March, a young boy and a woman died after a boat carrying 95 people capsized near Christmas Island.
Meanwhile the Coalition said if it wins the election in September it wouldn’t need a formal agreement with Indonesia to send asylum seeker boats back there.
Opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan says the Howard government didn’t have any formal arrangement when it successfully turned boats back.
But he says a co-operative relationship with Indonesia would be “pivotal”.
“When it comes to turning these boats back around it would be sending Indonesian-flagged boats with an Indonesian crew back to the Indonesian port from which they’ve left,” he told Sky News today.
“There’s absolutely nothing stopping that. We don’t need a formal arrangement with the Indonesians to do that.”
Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema recently ruled out any collaboration between the two nations to send people back to Indonesia because it wasn’t their country of origin.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the opposition was trying to trick Australians with a simple “turn back the boats” slogan.
“The idea that a boat with 200 people on it delivered into Australian waters by a people smuggler can simply be told to turn around and go back to Indonesia, or that Australian border security forces are going to be able to cart it to an Indonesian port, is a fantasy,” he told Meet the Press today.
“Tony Abbott could be made prime minister tomorrow and the problem of people smugglers bringing desperate people into our waters will continue.”
HOW THE TRAGEDY UNFOLDED
WEDNESDAY, June 5, 1745 AEST – Airforce plane spots boat 28 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island; doesn’t appear to be in distress * HMAS Warramunga sent to intercept boat
THURSDAY, June 6, 0130 AEST – HMAS Warramunga arrives at boat sighting location * conducts spiral search then scours approach corridor to Christmas Island * Airforce plane also searches
FRIDAY, June 7, 1500 AEST – Airforce plane spots submerged boat hull 65 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island * 1700 – HMAS Warramunga arrives; finds debris, life jackets * 2045 – Airforce plane spots body in sea * HMAS Warramunga can’t find body * two merchant vessels respond to request for assistance and head to search area
SATURDAY,June 8, 1500 AEST – Customs plane spots up to nine bodies in sea * subsequent searches find four more bodies * Australian Federal Police receive call from another boat in possible need of assistance * HMAS Warramunga sent to find it
SUNDAY, June 9,: search for survivors from first boat continues 74 nautical miles west of Christmas Island * includes three planes and two merchant vessels.
Source: Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare/AAP
This article was originally published here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/air-and-search-continues-after-thirteen-die-when-an-asylum-boat-sinks-off-christmas-island/story-fni0xqrb-1226660782387