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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Boat horror kills up to 50 at Christmas Island

The Australian: 

Up to 50 asylum-seekers are feared drowned after their boat was smashed on to cliffs at Christmas Island.
Authorities believe the boat was in a desperate, night-time dash for safety.
As rescuers last night continued to scour the ocean for survivors after the worst known loss of asylum-seekers' lives at sea since the SIEV X tragedy in October 2001, sources told The Australian it appeared the boat's attempts to reach the island's only safe harbour in mountainous seas tragically helped them avoid detection.

The first authorities knew of the wooden fishing boat was when it appeared out of the pre-dawn darkness.
Officials told The Australian the Indonesian boat, believed to be carrying about 70 Iraqi and Iranian asylum-seekers, was not under constant surveillance, although it may have been detected earlier on its journey. They said it appeared the boat tried to make it to Flying Fish Cove overnight, meaning it was harder to detect for the regular navy and Customs patrols.
Sources said the boat's dawn arrival was a "huge surprise" to authorities, with the navy and Customs vessels forced to go to the lee side of the island.
As soon as the danger to the vessel became apparent, the navy patrol boat HMAS Pirie and the Customs vessel Triton launched fast, rigid inflatable boats. But they had to travel several kilometres through 5m seas before reaching the stricken vessel and pulling survivors from the water.
Locals at the scene said a navy vessel took between 30 and 45 minutes to reach the boat. By that time, it had been ripped apart after crashing into the cliff face.

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