September 28, 2013
Survivors of a boat that sank off Java claim the Australian embassy ignored a distress call. Twenty-two asylum seekers have been confirmed as drowned but authorities in Indonesia fear that number may rise to more than 70.
“I called the Australian embassy; for 24 hours we were calling them. They told us just send us the position on GPS, where are you,” one survivor, Abdullah, a man from Jordan, was reported as saying by Fairfax media. “We did, and they told us, ‘OK, we know … where you are’. And they said, ‘We’ll come for you in two hours’.
“And we wait two hours; we wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them, ‘we don’t have food, we don’t have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us’. And nobody come. Sixty person dead now because of Australian government.”
One of the passengers, a Lebanese man, had reportedly lost his pregnant wife and eight children in the disaster.
Just 25 of those aboard had been rescued before efforts to locate survivors were postponed on Friday evening due to failing light.
It’s believed to be the first fatal attempted asylum-seeker crossing under the Abbott government, and comes after another group of 44 asylum seekers were rescued by an Australian navy vessel in the Sunda Strait on Thursday.
The boat that sank on Friday had departed from the fishing village of Pelabuhan Ratu, in the Sukabumi regency, on the south coast of western Java. It first got into trouble about 10 hours into its journey and efforts were made to return to Indonesia before it sank.
A police official from the district of Cianjur in Java said authorities were alerted to the incident after bodies were discovered floating in an estuary on Friday morning.
“We have now found 22 dead bodies, most of them are children as they cannot swim,” the official said, according to news agency AFP. He said the boat had broken into several pieces.
A spokesman for the Indonesian search and rescue agency, Basarnas, said his office was not advised of an incident involving an asylum seeker boat until 3pm local time on Friday.
He said the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority had contacted Basarnas about the boat.
The latest tragedy in waters between Indonesia and Australia comes amid a ramping up in tensions between Canberra and Jakarta over the asylum seeker issue, and days ahead of talks in Jakarta between Tony Abbott, and the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Abbott and Yudhoyno will meet on Monday, with asylum seeker policy expected to be at the top of the agenda.
Strong waves are preventing Indonesian rescuers from continuing the search for survivors on Saturday morning.
“The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They’re four to six metres. We hope conditions improve soon,” Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java, told AFP, adding no helicopter had been deployed.