No sign of asylum seeker boat

Updated: 17:13, Wednesday August 29, 2012

Grave fears are held for as many as 150 asylum seekers missing in waters between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia.

Indonesian search and rescue teams were deployed to a site about 220 nautical miles from Christmas Island in the early hours of Wednesday after a distress call was issued from a boat carrying the asylum seekers to Australia.

But Gagah Prakoso, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, BASARNAS, said teams deployed to the missing boat's last known location had found no sign of the vessel.

"After hours of searching around the site where it's said to be sunk, we found nothing. There's no sign at all if the boat sank," Mr Prakoso told AAP.

"Usually when a boat sinks, there should be a sign, maybe one or two people may be floating using parts of the boat.

"But there's nothing."

He said two helicopters deployed to search for the boat had since returned to base. Three ships sent to the site had also found no sign of the vessel.

The boat had contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) just after 1.30am (AEST).

Australian authorities in turn contacted BASARNAS.

BASARNAS said the caller had reported that the wooden boat was carrying about 150 people, and was sinking at a location in waters off Ujung Kulon, an area on the western-most tip of Java.

The call to AMSA, made using a satellite phone, was the last contact with the missing boat.

The search for the missing boat has been postponed pending further information.

A general alert has been sent out to other ships in the area.

The latest incident comes in the wake of the deaths of about 300 asylum seekers since December along the same route, in the Sunda Strait between Java and Christmas Island.

A high-level meeting between Australian and Indonesian officials will be held next week at which the issue of maritime co-operation, including in the area of search and rescue, is set to be discussed.


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