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July 17 2013 4 17 /07 /July /2013 07:43

Four drown after asylum seeker boat capsizes off Christmas Island

Asylum seekers Christmas Island
Four drown after asylum boat capsizes

Four people have drowned after another asylum seeker boat sank in rough seas off Christmas Island on Tuesday.

Navy search and rescue services pulled 144 people from the water and recovered the bodies of four others.


The vessel was being escorted to Christmas Island by Navy boats HMAS Albany and HMAS Warramunga when it capsized approximately 70 nautical miles off the coast, throwing passengers into the water.


Christmas Island administrator Jon Stanhope, told ABC Radio that while it is tragic, he was not particularly surprised that another boat had capsized. He said the mortuary facilities on the island had increased from a capacity for five bodies to 50, "and that is a statement within itself."


The former ACT chief minister also called for a greater level of humanity towards asylum seekers.


"I sometimes wish that among some of the debate and some of the commentary and some of the discourse, that each of us would look at asylum seekers not as a bulk, an anonymous grouping, but as individual human beings that have hopes and aspirations and dreams and feel the same pain and suffer the same grief as each of us," he said.


The stricken boat had made contact with the Australian maritime safety authority (AMSA) very early on Tuesday to report they were in distress and HMAS Albany was tasked with assisting. HMAS Albany was with the vessel most of the day however personnel were unable to board due to bad weather, despite several attempts.


HMAS Warramunga joined later in the day. After the asylum seeker boat capsized its crew rescued 76 people from the water, and the Albany's rescued 68.


A RAAF P3-Orion maritime patrol aircraft deployed life rafts and RCC Australia broadcast to shipping in the area to assist. Australian customs vessel Triton was also tasked to respond to the incident "at best speed", said a statement from border protection command.


Based on information from the crew of the asylum seekers' boat it is believed there were around 150 people on board. A search for any missing people was suspended at 9.38pm Tuesday night.


The survivors are currently on board the two Navy boats on their way to Christmas Island. It's expected they will arrive some time on Wednesday afternoon.


Home affairs minister Jason Clare is expected to give a full press briefing on Wednesday morning.


This is the second incident of drownings at sea in recent days. The body of a boy less than one year old was pulled from the water and eight people remain missing, presumed dead, after an asylum seeker boat sunk 87 nautical miles off the coast of Christmas Island on Friday night.


Friday's incident sparked harsh criticisms of rescue agencies over the time it took for search and rescue services to be sent out to assist.

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