Search launched after asylum mayday call
July 04, 2012 11:42AM
A SEARCH and rescue operation is under way south of Indonesia after a distress call from an asylum-seeker vessel carrying up to 180 people.
Customs and Border Protection said it had sent two Australian navy vessels to the area after a distress call was received at 4.30am (AEST) today.
The operation was launched after people on the boat reported it was having engine trouble and taking on water, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Calls had also been received from friends and family of those on board.
“Whenever you have a call like that you take it seriously,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told ABC Radio.
It is not yet clear if the asylum-seeker vessel has capsized or if people are in the water.
A Customs Dash 8 surveillance aircraft and an RAAF P-3 maritime patrol aircraft have also been asked to provide aerial surveillance in support of the search and rescue operation.
“Current indications are that the vessel is approximately 63 nautical miles (116 kilometres) south-west of West Java and 200 nautical miles (370km) north-west of Christmas Island,” Customs said.
“HMAS Wollongong is currently in the vicinity of the vessel's reported location and is investigating a number of vessels in the area. HMAS Leeuwin is also responding and is expected to arrive on scene this evening.”
AMSA has also called for assistance from any merchant vessels in the area.
The latest operation comes in the wake of two asylum-seeker boat sinkings in the last month, which left up to 94 people dead.
It also comes after federal parliament last week failed to pass laws that would have restored the government's power to send asylum-seekers to other countries for processing.
Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said today's response differed markedly to that by Australian authorities in the case of the vessel that capsized on June 21 with the loss of 90 lives.
He demanded a “full inquiry” into Australia's response to the June 21 tragedy in light of today's more rapid response.
“In this incident, although the boat is only 50 nautical miles south of Indonesia, an Australian navy vessel is expected to provide assistance within three hours of receiving a distress call,” Mr Rintoul said.
“The boat that sank with the loss of 90 lives was about the same distance from Indonesia but it took a day and half before Australia rendered assistance. It seems even more obvious now that the delay in the response by Australian authorities has cost the lives of 90 asylum-seekers.
“Without a full inquiry into that tragic incident, there can be no confidence that there is now a properly resourced and co-ordinated rescue response plan in place.”
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