August 20, 2013
Up to five asylum seekers are feared to have drowned when their boat capsized about 200 kilometres off Christmas Island earlier today.
Rescue crews pulled 106 survivors from the waterafter their boat was swamped.
But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) says reports from the survivors suggest “up to five people remain unaccounted for”.
“After an extensive search of the area for further survivors or bodies, none have been sighted,” it said in a statement.
“It is therefore believed any people unaccounted for have gone down with part of the vessel.”
The search has now been suspended.
AMSA sent HMAS Parramatta and a Customs plane to the area after receiving a distress call on Tuesday.
The boat was found upright but partly submerged.
It is not known what nationality the asylum seekers are but they will be taken to Christmas Island for health and security checks.
It is expected they will then be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement, if found to be refugees.
The latest rescue operation comes on the same day as Indonesia’s special conference on people smuggling ended.
Delegates from 13 countries, including Australia, signed up to a non-binding list of measures to stop asylum seekers.
The so-called “Jakarta Declaration” includes improving conditions in source countries and cracking down on people smuggling.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke was at the conference but concedes that Australia’s PNG deal will not stop people getting on boats.
“They’ll be some people who get on board a vessel and take the risk and there’ll be some people who drown in doing so,” he said.
“But for everybody who makes it across to Australia they will find out that we were exactly serious about the implementation of our policy.
“People will get their settlement claim heard. They will get if they have a valid refugee claim a durable outcome. That outcome though won’t be in Australia. It will at the moment be in either Papua New Guinea or in Nauru.”