AUSTRALIAN rescuers were trying to help a migrant-filled boat in bad weather and rough seas off Indonesia yesterday, a day after the countries agreed to strengthen maritime ties to combat people smuggling.
The wooden boat issued a distress call Wednesday morning and was believed to have up to 180 people on board, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. Its initial location was 50 miles (80 kilometres) southwest of Panaitan, a small island off the western end of the main Java island, but by afternoon, it had drifted within 180 miles (290 kilometres) of Christmas Island, Indonesian officials said.
The territory is nearer to Indonesia than to the Australian mainland and is a popular destination for asylum seekers. Australia holds migrants in a detention centre there while their asylum claims are heard.
Poor weather was preventing rescuers on the Australian naval ship HMAS Wollongong from boarding the migrants' boat, the maritime authority said. An Indonesian plane and navy ship were returning home from the scene as the boat moved closer to Christmas Island, said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for its National Search and Rescue Agency.
The boat was intact and though the initial report was that it was taking on water, the precise problem was unclear, Australian officials said. Prakoso said all the passengers were still on board.
"(Rescuers) found that there were no visible signs of distress, but I do need to emphasize this — the weather conditions out there at the moment are very rough," Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told reporters.
Australia's debate over how to cope with the increasing flow of asylum seekers has intensified since two boats carrying Australia-bound migrants capsized in the last two weeks. More than 90 people are believed to have died when the boats sank in the Indian Ocean. AP
Thursday, July 5, 2012
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