Authorities have found no survivors in their search for the missing occupants of a capsized asylum seeker boat off Christmas Island as rescuers respond to a second vessel reported in distress nearby.
Thirteen bodies and debris have been seen floating in the water but no survivors have been found. The boat, first spotted by authorities on Wednesday, is thought to have had about 55 people on board.
The two merchant ships are expected to be released from the search tonight.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says the 13 bodies are yet to be recovered.
He says it is believed it was mostly adult men onboard but there were a small number of women and children.
Asylum seeker boat sinking timeline (times in AEST)
- On Wednesday morning an Australian Air Force aircraft spotted the vessel 28 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island. It identified about 55 people onboard, mostly men, but some women and children. No distress signal was received.
- HMAS Warramunga was sent to the location and arrived at 1:30am on Thursday morning, but did not find the vessel.
- The search continued along the approach corridor to Christmas Island throughout Thursday and Friday along with the help of aircraft.
- The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is called by Customs to help with the search. Two nearby merchant ships volunteer to join.
- The boat’s submerged hull was spotted at 3pm on Friday by an Air Force aircraft about 65 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island.
- HMAS Warramunga arrived at the location at 5pm on Friday. The hull could not be located but debris including life jackets were found.
- An aircraft spotted a body in the water at 8:45pm on Friday, but Warramunga could not find the body.
- At 3pm on Saturday Customs planes spotted at least nine bodies.
- More bodies have since been spotted and the search continues.
A search has also been underway 110 nautical miles north of the Island for the second boat after the Federal Police received a call last night reporting the craft had engine trouble.
HMAS Warramunga was sent to its location but the vessel has not been found.
“This is another terrible tragedy. Another terrible reminder how dangerous these journeys are,” Mr Clare said.
“This is a search and rescue trying to find people alive today and that’s where my focus [is].”
However, the minister foreshadowed a full review of the incidents after the operation is complete.
“We want to stop people getting here on boats,” he said.
“At the completion of this search, this will be [the] subject of a full review, as is standard practice.
“The focus today is on finding people alive.”
Meanwhile a British merchant vessel which rescued 78 asylum seekers from another stricken vessel, has arrived at the Island.
The asylum seeker boat ran into trouble several hundred nautical miles west of Cocos Island several days ago.
Two other asylum seeker boats, carrying almost 200 people have been intercepted since Friday.
Source: ABC Australia