Two dead as asylum boat capsizes north of Christmas Island

The Australian
March 25, 2013 6:39PM

A YOUNG boy and a woman are dead and two more people are fighting for their lives after an asylum-seeker boat carrying at least 95 people capsized off Christmas Island.

A boy aged four or five and a woman in her 30s died in the incident, which occurred as the asylum-seekers' boat was being boarded by border protection officers from the Customs vessel Ocean Protector, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.

A boy aged six or seven and a pregnant woman in her 20s were also badly injured as the vessel rolled and took on water when struck by two waves, Mr Clare told reporters. The two had ingested water and possibly diesel.

Personnel from the Ocean Protector rescued the asylum-seekers and the boat’s crew and took them to Christmas Island, where the injured were tonight being treated in hospital.

Seventeen juveniles were among the 95 men, women and children aboard the boat, believed to be from Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries, Mr Clare said.

The 12-15 metre asylum-seeker boat was first spotted from the air yesterday and last night issued an appeal for help.

Sent to the area, the Ocean Protector shadowed the vessel from early today and it did not appear to be in any distress.

It finally approached the asylum-seeker boat at dawn local time (11am AEDT), about 14 nautical miles north of Christmas Island.

Mr Clare said the Customs ship sent a tender to the asylum-seeker boat, which stopped and was boarded by two border protection officers.

“At that stage two large waves hit the vessel and it rolled,” Mr Clare said.

“The two Custom officers were recovered and are safe and uninjured.”

Officials admitted that by stopping, the asylum-seeker boat had become much less stable.

The capsize follows a recent spike in the number of asylum-seeker vessels, with at least four vessels taken to Christmas Island between Saturday evening and Sunday morning one carrying 128 people.

There has been a lull in boat arrivals in recent months due to heavy swells and poor weather, but the numbers arriving are picking up again.

Hundreds have died making the treacherous journey over the past few years.

Earlier this month, a naval vessel plucked 77 asylum-seekers to safety after their boat broke up on the way to Australia.

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