Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Asylum-seekers made it less than half-way from Indonesia when boat began to sink

by: Paige Taylor
From: The Australian
August 21, 2013 12:00AM

TRAUMATISED survivors of another fatal asylum boat journey will be delivered to Christmas Island this morning after being rescued by the Australian navy in the third tragedy at sea in five weeks.

The 106 survivors are due to be taken off HMAS Parramatta, the frigate that rescued them from their sunken vessel about 120 nautical miles north of the Australian territory. Up to five people are feared drowned.

The asylum-seekers had made it less than half-way from Indonesia when their boat began to sink. A search for five people the asylum-seekers said were unaccounted was called off last night. Navy officers in rigid inflatable boats rescued the 106 people from the sinking asylum vessel after somebody onboard phoned for help early yesterday saying two passengers were injured.

The Parramatta was more than six hours from the asylum vessel shortly after 5.30am (AEST) when the Australian Maritime Safety Authority received the phone call asking for help. At that time, there was no indication the vessel was stricken. The person who contacted AMSA indicated only that two people on board were injured and needed help, an AMSA spokeswoman said.

When the Customs and Border Protection Dash 8 aircraft arrived on the scene at 12:20pm, it sighted a "foundered vessel".

"The vessel was upright, but partially submerged. A number of people were sighted in the water," an AMSA statement said.

At 12:25pm, the Parramatta arrived and began pulling people out of the water. A merchant vessel was on the scene as well.

"After an extensive search of the area for further survivors or bodies, none have been sighted; it is therefore believed any people unaccounted for have gone down with part of the vessel," AMSA and Border Protection Command said in a joint media release at 6.38pm.

In two asylum boat tragedies north of Christmas Island last month, the vessels tipped over in rough conditions. Those two capsizes - one overnight on July 12-13 and another on July 16 - were also fatal.

In the first, officers from Customs Vessel Triton rescued 88 people with help from a merchant vessel. Rescuers also recovered the body of 10-week-old baby boy Abul Jafari from Afghanistan.

The July 16 capsize was closer to Christmas Island. The bodies of two men and two women were recovered. In that incident, officers from HMAS Warramunga and HMAS Albany rescued 144 people, including an eight-month-old baby Afghan girl found floating face down in the ocean and not breathing.

Her mother is missing presumably drowned. In that incident, the navy has confirmed an officer from the Warramunga spotted the girl, pulled her into a inflatable boat and revived her.

Those rescued yesterday are from the 40th boat to either arrive, be intercepted or rescued since Kevin Rudd announced his PNG Solution on July 19.


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