AMSA calls off massive search for missing asylum seekers

UPDATE: The search for more than 40 asylum seekers missing feared drowned after their boat sank near Christmas Island was abandoned late on Sunday night.

The boat sank about 65 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island after about 55 people were seen aboard last Wednesday.

The search and rescue operation sighted 13 bodies in the water on Saturday; no further bodies were seen since.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority suspended the search and rescue operation after receiving medical advice on Sunday night ruling out the likelihood of survival of those on board.

Despite three vessels and five aircraft being involved in the three-day search and rescue operation, no survivors were found.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the incident was "another terrible tragedy" and showed the perils of travelling in open seas in often unseaworthy boats.

The latest deaths of asylum-seekers hoping to make it to Australia come after the deaths of more than 100 on board a vessel that sank last July.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the latest incident showed the current asylum-seeker policies were not working.

Opposition customs spokesman Michael Keenan said it was another terrible reminder of the perilous risks associated with making such journeys.

He said the Coalition was seeking a full briefing about the circumstances surrounding the incident from the government.

How it happened:

  • Wednesday afternoon: Vessel spotted with up to 55 people on board, reported as not in distress.
  • Thursday, 1.30am: HMAS Warramunga arrives at location of last sighting, but vessel not found.
  • Friday, 3pm: Submerged hull of the boat seen from aircraft, about 65 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island.
  • Friday, 5pm: HMAS Warramunga arrives on site. Boat not found, but debris and lifejackets sighted.
  • Friday, 8pm: Aircraft spotted a body in the water, but was not found.
  • Saturday, 3pm: Customs planes sighted at least nine more bodies.
  • Sunday, 9.15pm: AMSA calls off search, after receiving medical advice.


Bodies found after asylum seeker boat sinks

GRAVE fears remain for more than 40 asylum seekers who were seen on board a boat bound for Christmas Island before the boat sank on Friday.

The boat, which was originally seen from the air on Wednesday, was reported as having about 55 known people on board.

After briefings with Customs officials on Saturday night and Sunday morning, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare spoke to reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

"At about 3pm AEST on Friday, the P-3 sighted a submerged hull in the water 65 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island," Mr Clare said.

"HMAS Warramunga arrived at this location at about 5pm. It was not able to locate the hull but it did find debris including pieces of wood and a number of life-jackets.

"At about 8.45pm AEST on Friday, the P-3 spotted a body in the water. The Warramunga proceeded to this location but was unable to locate the body."

He said 13 bodies had since been seen in the water in the area around where the boat had gone down, about 74 nautical miles west of Christmas Island.

An intensive search and rescue operation has been underway since the submerged hull of the vessel was seen on Friday.

Mr Clare said the incident was "another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder of how dangerous these journeys are".

While the majority of those seen on board were men, there were some women and children among them.

Mr Clare said those bodies already seen in the water had not been recovered, as the focus was on finding survivors.

He said there had also been two merchant vessels which responded to distress calls over the past few days and took part in the on-going search and rescue operation.

Mr Clare said as a matter of course there would an internal inquiry into the incident, to find out whether everything that should have been done was done.

No further updates were available at time of filing this story.

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