100 feared dead as Australia-bound boat sinks off Indonesia

03 September 2012

It is feared that 100 people have died after a wooden boat sank in the sea off the Indonesian island of Java on Wednesday 29th August 2012. It is believed that the boat contained asylum seekers, many from Afghanistan, who were attempting to reach Australia by sea. 54 people, believed to be Afghans, have been rescued. It is believed there were about 150 people on the boat, including women and children, when it sank only eight nautical miles off Java.

A Liberian merchant ship, APL Bahrain, rescued six men who were floating in the water 45 miles off Java on Thursday morning. They had been in the water for 24 hours but appeared to be healthy. The Captain of the ship said that he saw what he thought were bodies in the water. Other ships also found survivors. At one point it was believed that 57 people had been rescued but three of those have since died. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, (AMSA) said all those rescued would be taken to the Indonesian town of Merak, 75 miles west of Jakarta.

Australian home affairs minister, Jason Clare, told the press that he believed that it was becoming increasingly likely that no more survivors would be found 'We have a window of opportunity; people can survive in the sea for up to 36, maybe 48, hours,' he said. Mr Clare added that he believed that 'people smugglers are running a closing down sale'. He said that he believed that asylum seekers would stop paying fees of up to AUS$10,000 to agents who organise transport by sea from Indonesia to Australia when Australia re-opens its processing camp for refugees on the remote Pacific island of Nauru in September. 1,900 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia in August alone.

Earlier this month, the Australian government passed legislation to allow camps, which were closed down in 2007, to be re-opened. Asylum seekers who make their way to Australia will be taken to the camps on Nauru and on the Papua new Guinean island of Manus for processing rather than being taken to Australia. This policy was passed with opposition support because of the growing numbers of refugees making the sea journey to Australia. So far, in 2012, 9,800 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by sea, which is more than double the number for the whole of 2011. So far, the authorities believe that 300 asylum seekers have been drowned making the journey in 2012.

Australia's Labor Party closed the processing camps on Nauru and Manus when it came to power in 2007. They had been established by the Conservative government of John Howard in 2001. In 2007, only 339 asylum seekers reached Australia by boat but the numbers have been growing rapidly ever since.

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