Indonesian crewman washes up on Christmas Island

Brendan Nicholson & Harry Edwards
January 31, 2013

AN Indonesian crewman from an asylum-seeker boat has been found alive, washed up on Christmas Island, after surviving for days at sea on a raft made from inner tubes.

Three Burmese men who were with the man on the raft are still missing. The makeshift raft is believed to have broken up and the inflated tubes were found by searchers kilometres apart.

A massive search for the missing men began after a Royal Australian Navy crew found a vessel carrying about 16 Burmese asylum-seekers last Friday about 20 nautical miles from Christmas island. The Indonesian vessel had apparently broken down and was drifting.

Those on board told the Australian sailors that a day earlier, three Burmese men and an Indonesian crewman had built the raft of inner tubes and bamboo poles in a bid to get to Christmas Island, which was out of sight.

A search that followed involved six aircraft, two naval vessels and two merchant ships.

On Monday, searchers found the tubes but no trace of the men.

On Tuesday morning, the badly sunburnt and dehydrated Indonesian man was found at Lily Beach on the island's east coast after almost a week at sea.

The man was transported to the island's hospital but was in generally good health.

He was last night in Immigration detention.

The man told authorities the men had been separated from the raft, possibly as it broke up.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said last night it had suspended the air and sea search after the survivor confirmed that the men were no longer on the raft. A land search was continuing.

AMSA said it had medical advice that the missing men could not have survived at sea without support from the raft. A shore and coast line search would continue until last light today.

Details of the crewman's survival emerged as Indonesian authorities were last night still trying to establish how a group of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers survived more than two months at sea and weeks adrift in dangerous waters, as they claim, finishing 1400km distant from their destination.

Twenty-two asylum-seekers survived their 15m fibreglass boat's sinking on Monday after striking a reef off Nusa Kambangan, a high-security prison island close to the Central Java coast. Two drowned and a missing man is now presumed dead.

Three of the survivors - a couple and their child - were still in hospital yesterday, while Immigration officials interviewed the others at Cilacap.

District Immigration chief Syamsul Bahri said yesterday the asylum-seekers claimed to have left Sri Lanka on November 22.

"All of them are without documents, but we are convinced that they're Sri Lankans," Mr Syamsul said.

Nilakhsan, a 27-year-old survivor whose 24-year-old wife drowned, told local reporters the journey started from Batticaloa, a town on Sri Lanka's eastern coast.

"Our country's situation is uncertain because of war and no jobs," Nilakhsan said.

"We hope we can reach Cocos Island, Australia, to get better life."

Additional reporting: Peter Alford


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