25 Jul 2013

Death toll rises in latest boat tragedy

8:39 pm on 25 July 2013

The confirmed death toll from the sinking of a boat carrying Australia-bound asylum-seekers has risen to 11, as rescuers continue searching the sea off Indonesia for survivors.

Indonesian police say two more bodies - those of an Iranian man and a Sri Lankan boy - were found early on Thursday, two days after the boat sank in choppy seas off the south-western coast of Java. Six children and a pregnant woman are also among the dead.

The number on the overloaded boat is unclear. Police have said about 200 were aboard, but an asylum seeker has said the boat was carrying 250, mostly Sri Lankans, AFP reports.

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

Chief of the rescue mission Rochmali, who goes by one name, said a helicopter had been deployed on Thursday and merchant vessels sailing nearby were alerted to watch out for survivors.

"We don't know exactly how many people were on the boat, but hopefully there won't be anyone missing. We still need to continue the search operation."

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

Meanwhile, more asylum seekers were reportedly leaving the Puncak region, south of Jakarta, to get on a boat bound for Australia on Wednesday night.