Liferaft pair spark rescue

The Age
Wednesday 28 March 2001

A stranded boat carrying 22 people was found north of Christmas Island last night after two men found drifting on board a makeshift raft sparked a big search.

The men were discovered by local fishermen about 11am and taken to the island. They told Australian Federal Police officers the boat on which they had been travelling broke down south of the Indonesian island of Java about a week ago. They said it had drifted in the Indian Ocean without power, since then.

Running out of food and water, they had made a raft on Monday using three water barrels, two pieces of wood and some rope. They said they left the others on board.

Christmas Island was within sight and they paddled with their hands for 50 nautical miles to reach land.

An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesman said the boat, which appeared to be in good condition, was about nine nautical miles north of the island when it was spotted by AFP officers on board a twin-engine plane.

The people on board the boat appeared to be in good health and two AFP vessels had been sent to tow the boat to the island where the passengers would be processed, he said. The AFP had reports that around 20 men, women and children were stranded, including a pregnant woman, with little food and water and no emergency equipment.

It was unknown last night whether they were asylum seekers, but they will join more than 300 illegal immigrants who have landed on remote offshore islands in recent days.

Immigration officials have begun making arrangements for 170 people who landed at Christmas Island on Sunday to be moved to the mainland, along with 169 people intercepted at Ashmore Island on Saturday.


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