Six rescued from missing asylum boat

Lanai Vasek
August 30, 2012 8:48AM

SIX passengers from an asylum-seeker boat attempting to make its way to Australia have been pulled alive from the sea by a merchant vessel, authorities say.

But so far there are no signs of up to 144 other passengers believed to be on board the boat, which issued a distress call off the Indonesian coast early yesterday.

There is no sign of the boat, which reported engine trouble.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority told The Australian the asylum-seekers were picked up by the cargo ship APL Bahrain off Indonesia this morning and are safely on board.

The asylum-seekers were rescued almost a day after the alarm was first raised by a boat in the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra.

"AMSA can confirm there are six passengers recovered," a spokeswoman said.

"At this stage there are no reports of bodies in the water."

About 150 people were understood to have been on board the wooden vessel.

Yopi Haryadi from Indonesian search and rescue agency BASARNAS has been in contact with the APL Bahrain and told ABC radio that the rescued passengers were not seriously injured.

“There is no critical condition from those passengers,” Mr Haryadi said.

“We asked about giving medical assistance and they said no, they are just recovering from the long time in the water.”

The search began yesterday after AMSA received a distress call from the boat via satellite phone. The details were transmitted to BASARNAS, which dispatched several search vessels. No trace was found yesterday and the search was suspended.

Two merchant vessels, the Bahrain and bulk carrier Gwendolin continued to search throughout the night in a broader search area, based on drift models supplied by Australian authorities.

Two Indonesian search rescue vessels are heading to the area, and will be joined by Defence and Customs aircraft which will depart Perth at first light.The HMAS Maitland is expected to arrive on scene later today.

It is not clear if those passengers who have been rescued will be brought to Australia or not. Earlier this month a group of asylum-seekers rescued by a merchant vessel threatened self-harm when the master had informed them they would be returned to Singapore.

AMSA said it will be up to Indonesian search and rescue authorities to decide where those rescued will be sent.

"BASARNAS is the lead agency on this matter and so will make that decision," a spokeswoman said.

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

It also comes ahead of high level talks between Australian and Indonesian officials in Jakarta next week where plans to enhance maritime cooperation, aimed at stemming the flow of asylum-seeker boat traffic, are set to be discussed.

The Indonesian Defence Ministry's spokesman on international co-operation, Brigadier General Jan Pieter Ate, confirmed the talks - which will involve Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare - would include plans to boost co-operation in search and rescue efforts involving asylum-seeker boats in distress.

"The discussion would be exploring what kind of activities could be done together like if there's a sea accident, and how the two countries can co-operate and share information about it," he told AAP.

It's understood a memorandum of understanding will be signed that would improve the ability of the nearest ship - Indonesian or Australian - to respond to emergency calls from vessels sailing between the countries.

Additional reporting: AAP


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