Australia Asylum Boat Survivors Taken to Indonesia

by
staff
A group of 54 asylum seekers are being sent back to Indonesia, as the search continues for scores missing from a boat believed to have sunk.

Australian navy personel transfer asylum-seekers to a Indonesian rescue boat near Panaitan island, West Java

A group of 54 asylum seekers are being sent back to Indonesia, as the search continues for scores missing from a boat believed to have sunk.

Australian and commercial ships plucked the survivors from the sea on Thursday in rescue operations 75km (45 miles) south-west of Indonesia's Java Island.

Authorities had revised down an earlier figure of 55 people rescued.

The search followed a distress call on Wednesday from a vessel which said it had 150 people on board.

''All vessels will transfer the survivors to Indonesian rescue vessels early this morning,'' the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in a statement.

''All survivors, including three with injuries, will be taken to Merak, Indonesia for medical attention.''

It is rare for asylum seekers headed for Australia to be successfully transferred back to Indonesia. Some among the 54 survivors have pleaded to be taken to Australia, reports said.

The wooden boat they were on is believed to have been ferrying mostly Afghans.

Asylum seekers often target Christmas Island, off Australia's northwest coast, to get to the country. They make the journey from Indonesia in boats that are usually overloaded and poorly maintained.

'Window of opportunity'

The search-and-rescue operations will continue on Friday with Indonesia's rescue agency, Basarnas, three merchant vessels and two aircraft from Perth, AMSA said.

But hopes of finding more survivors are slim after almost two days.

''We have a window of opportunity - people can survive in the sea for up to 36, maybe 48 hours," Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.

Indonesia sent two boats and a helicopter to the area on Wednesday after the distress call was made, but found nothing and returned to base.

On Thursday a merchant vessel found six people in the water, and more survivors were rescued during the day.

This is the latest in a number of boats that have sunk in the past year.

In June, a boat with 200 asylum seekers sank near the island - 17 bodies were found and another 70 were feared dead after a three-day search. That was the second boat to sink in a week, reigniting the debate on asylum in parliament.

Earlier this month, lawmakers approved the re-opening of offshore processing camps for asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The moves are aimed at deterring asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat, amid an increasing number of arrivals.

Australia says it will also increase its intake of refugees to 20,000 a year, from the current 13,750, in line with recommendations by an expert panel.