15 Dec 2010

Bodies recovered after asylum boat capsizes

10:19 pm on 15 December 2010

Authorities have recovered the bodies of 27 asylum-seekers who died after their boat smashed into a cliff and capsized off Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Up to 80 people including women and children were on a wooden Indonesian fishing boat when it hit the cliff in rough seas near Flying Fish Cove on Wednesday morning.

Australian Customs says 41 survivors have been rescued from the water, while one person made it to shore.

The asylum-seekers are believed to be from Iran and Iraq and were seeking refuge at Christmas Island which is a territory of Australia.

Australia's Royal Flying Doctor service says a plane is being sent to treat three seriously injured survivors.

Witnesses described being woken up on Wednesday by screaming and then watching helplessly as bodies and wreckage were dashed against the rocks.

Documentary maker Philip Stewart told the ABC he saw people including a child clinging to debris as they tried to survive, but succumbed to the waves.

A Royal Australian Navy ship has been unable to land at Christmas Island to drop off asylum-seekers picked up from an earlier boat arrival due to the rough conditions.