Officers made call on survivors: Smith

September 5, 2012 - 8:54AM

Defence Minister Stephen Smith has rejected suggestions the government refused to allow survivors from last week's asylum seeker boat sinking to come to Australia as requested.

Mr Smith says the decision to take the Afghans to Indonesia was an "operational" one taken by people on the spot trying to save lives.

The majority were rescued by the Australian navy vessel HMAS Maitland before being transferred to Indonesian search and rescue boats.

Mr Smith on Wednesday said asylum seekers were transferred on the high seas by personnel who judged they desperately needed medical assistance in Indonesia. Their boat went down off the Javanese coast. Advertisement

"It wasn't a decision made by a minister of the crown sitting in Canberra or anywhere else; it was made by people ... on the high seas making a judgment about the safety, welfare and security of people in enormous distress," Mr Smith told ABC radio on Wednesday.

The minister said while the survivors asked to be taken to Australia "they also asked to be rescued from the high seas (and) from sharks that were attacking them".

Up to 100 people are believed to have drowned in the disaster in the Sunda Strait between Indonesia and Christmas Island. Just 55 people were pulled from the water.

2012 AAP


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