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Boat carrying 200 capsizes between Indonesia and Australia

posted 21 Jun 2012, 04:45 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 21 Jun 2012, 04:46 ]

Boat carrying 200 capsizes between Indonesia and Australia.

AUSTRALIA  (AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION) - A boat carrying about 200 suspected asylum seekers has capsized in Indonesian waters 120 nautical miles north of Australia's Christmas Island and many are feared drowned, authorities said on Thursday (June 21).

Australian police said a military aircraft saw some 40 people standing on the upturned hull of the boat.

"We know that from what we have been hearing from the aircraft that there is not two hundred life jackets on board. There is about forty people on the hull of the vessel which have been observed. So it's upturned and they're standing on the upturned hull and there were a couple of hours ago about thirty five persons in the water but they think that there is more than that now. We're quiet concerned for larger number of people who may have drowned there," Western Australian police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan told ABC.

"They're saying they are seeing dead bodies in the water, dead bodies in the water," asked an ABC radio reporter.

"We can't confirm that they have died but it's likely," O'Callaghan added. He said at least 75 people were feared to have drowned.

An Australian customs spokesman said border protection had detected what was believed to be a people-smuggling boat in distress earlier on Thursday.

"Indonesian navy ships are on their way there now," Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) spokesman Gagah Prakoso told Reuters.

The sinking occurred within Indonesia's search and rescue zone and Australian authorities were offering assistance, Australia's Maritime Safety Authority said.

Refugees seeking asylum in Australia often set sail from Indonesia heading for Christmas Island in dangerous and overcrowded boats.

As many as 200 died when an overcrowded boat sank off the coast of East Java in December, 2011.

Fifty asylum seekers travelling from Indonesia to Christmas Island died when a storm dashed their boat onto rocks in December 2010.

Australia's Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island, south of Indonesia, is a popular destination for asylum seekers, who travel by often crowded boats from Indonesia, with the help of people smugglers.

So far this year, more than 50 boats carrying more than 4,000 asylum seekers have been detected by Australian authorities.

In 2001, a crowded boat known as the SIEV X sank on its way to Australia with the loss of 350 lives.