A police officer carries an unconscious child from the boat that capsized after hitting a reef off the coast of Sukapura, in Cianjur. Photo: Reuters

Death toll hits 15 from Australia-bound asylum boat

The death toll after a boat carrying some 200 asylum-seekers bound for Australia capsized has risen to 15, rescuers said on Friday, adding they did not know if any passengers were still missing.

Three days after the boat sank in the seas off Indonesia, rescue operation chief Rochmali, who goes by one name, said it was “unlikely” any more survivors would be found, as weather conditions deteriorated with strong winds and waves hampering the search.

“We don’t know the exact number of people who were onboard. It’s possible they’re all accounted for, but we’ve sent a helicopter out anyway to scan the sea,” Rochmali told AFP.

Among the 15 dead are six children, including an 18-month-old baby, and a pregnant woman, Rochmali said.

Police are questioning the asylum-seekers, which include Iranians and Sri Lankans. Some have been handed over to immigration officials and are staying in hotels in West Java’s Sukabumi city.

Australian authorities alerted Indonesia of the incident on Tuesday evening, just days after Canberra announced that asylum-seekers who arrive by boat would no longer be resettled in Australia even if they secure refugee status.

An AFP reporter who spoke to survivors on Wednesday said one group of 38, including women and children, had swum in darkness for up to four hours in high seas to reach the shore on Tuesday night.