21 Jun 2012

2 boats carrying 300 asylum seekers capsize

9:49 pm on 21 June 2012

There are reports two boats carrying asylum seekers are in distress north of Christmas Island, as fears grow that a large number of people may have drowned.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has confirmed a boat carrying about 200 asylum seekers capsized about 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island Thursday afternoon.

A spokesperson from the Indonesian search and rescue unit says there could possibly be another boat of asylum seekers in distress after receiving information from Australian authorities.

It was initially thought there was just one boat in trouble, but the Indonesian navy is heading to a location to look for a boat believed to be carrying 100 Sri Lankans, as well as one carrying more than 200 people from the Middle East.

AMSA spokeswoman Jo Meehan says some people are standing on the hull of the boat and others are in life jackets floating in the water, the ABC reports.

She says life rafts have been deployed to the survivors on the upturned hull of the boat.

West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan says there are concerns a large number of asylum seekers may have drowned.

"We know from what we've been hearing from the aircraft that there's not 200 life jackets on board," he said.

"There's about 40 people on the hull of the vessel which have been observed, so it's a upturned hull and there were a couple of hours ago about 35 persons in the water but they think there's more than that now."