Death toll from Indonesia asylum boat sinking increases to 28

Officials fear many more refugees from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen still missing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 1:48pm

The death toll from the sinking of an Australia-bound asylum seeker boat off Indonesia’s main Java island rose to 28 on Sunday, with many more still feared missing, police said.

“We found seven more bodies after sweeping the coast this morning, six adults and a boy,” Warsono, police chief in the Agrabinta area of Java, where the boat went down, said.

He said the death toll from the accident was now 28.

But officials fear that many more are still missing after the boat carrying would-be refugees from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen broke into pieces and sank in rough seas south of Java on Friday.

It was the first deadly asylum boat accident since Tony Abbott became Australia’s prime minister earlier this month.

It came ahead of his state visit to Indonesia, which begins on Monday, where his tough boatpeople policies are likely to be the focus of talks.

About 20 police, military and search and rescue officials were sweeping the coast around Agrabinta in West Java province in the hunt for survivors or bodies.

However, Warsono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said that rescuers could still not deploy boats to search in the rough seas, with waves at heights of four to six metres.

About 25 people were plucked to safety when the boat went down on Friday, but many more are still feared missing.

Yanto Permana, a local disaster official, said there was confusion about the number of people who had been on the boat as survivors had given officials different accounts.

He said he believed there had been around 80 on the boat when it went down, meaning some 25 were still missing.

However, other officials have said they believe the boat was carrying around 120 asylum seekers.

Survivors said they were trying to get to Australia’s Christmas Island, closer to Java than mainland Australia.

They are the latest to try and cross the treacherous stretch of water that has claimed hundreds of asylum-seekers’ lives in recent years.

Australia on Sunday insisted it provided “all appropriate assistance” to the boat, after survivors claimed their calls for help had gone unheeded.