Scores of Afghans missing as boat capsizes near Australia
KABUL: Scores of asylum-seekers, most believed to be Afghan, are still missing after their boat capsized in waters between Indonesia and Australia.
Two crew members are among the 109 survivors of the asylum-seeker boat tragedy north of Australia, it was revealed Saturday, with around 90 others still missing.
The boat is believed to have originated in Sri Lanka and to have been carrying as many as 200, mostly Afghan, asylum-seekers.
The two crew members, who were taken by Navy vessel to Australia's Christmas Island with the other surviving passengers, are being held at the same detention facility on the island, Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship said.
The revelation came as two more bodies were found at the scene of the tragedy. Three bodies have already been recovered.
Of the 109 survivors, 105 are in a detention facility on the island, with the other four receiving medical treatment in western Australian town of Perth.
Most of the survivors, including a 13-year-old boy, were taken to Christmas Island yesterday, with three men treated at the island's hospital.
Customs and Border Protection and AMSA confirmed today that the safety authority received calls from a vessel "indicating it was experiencing difficulties" about 10pm (AEST) on Tuesday.
"Later that evening, the location of this vessel was determined to be within Indonesia's search and rescue zone and as such the information was forwarded to (Indonesia's national search and rescue organisation) BASARNAS," customs said in a statement.
"There was no indication of where the vessel was located."
About 1.30am (AEST) on Wednesday AMSA received more calls from the vessel, which was then reported to be 38 nautical miles south of the Indonesian mainland.
"AMSA advised the vessel to return to Indonesia if it was experiencing difficulty.
"AMSA advised the Indonesian Search and Rescue agency, who took responsibility to coordinate a response."
Hopes of finding more passengers alive are quickly fading and an AMSA spokesman said the "window was rapidly closing'' on finding survivors. No survivors have been recovered since 10.30pm Australian-time on Thursday.
Three aircraft and one boat continued the search for survivors on Friday overnight. Another three aircraft and extra boats joined the search Saturday morning but poor weather conditions had hampered the effort.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said medical advice suggested there was still a chance.
"We are operating under conditions that include the water temperature, the weather, the fact that we now there were life jackets on board, rafts and debris," AMSA spokeswoman Jo Meehan said.
"At the moment we are operating on the basis that they will be able to survive for two days."
Rescuers, including the crew of merchant ship JPO Vulpecula, saved 109 people from the people-smuggling ship, which capsized with some 200 people on board in the Indian Ocean on Thursday afternoon, two days after first issuing a distress call.
Australia's opposition leader and leader of the Liberal party Tony Abbott said today he wouldn't be criticising the government while the "tragedy" is still unfolding.
"I am doing my best to avoid (politicising the issue) - not a word of criticism will escape my lips today," Abbott said.
"We should be grieving for those who are lost."
He said he was willing to discuss the political impasse on asylum-seekers, but he would not be budging on new legislation.
"It doesn't really matter whether [Australian Prime Minister] Julia Gillard and I talk about this, what matters is that the government put the right policies in place," Abbott said in Sydney.
His comments came after Liberal parliamentarian Mal Washer and independent MPs called for a compromise on refugee policy. —(Tolo News)
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