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Dozens feared dead in asylum seeker boat crash in Australia

12-15-2010 15:16 BJT

by Vienna Ma

CANBERRA, Dec. 15 (Xinhua) -- Dozens of asylum seekers are feared dead after their boat on Wednesday morning smashed into rocks, and broke apart in rough conditions off Christmas Island of Australia, local media reported.

A boat full of asylum seekers is smashed by violent seas off Australia's Christmas
Island, as shown in this Channel 7 TV framegrab of a photo released by The West
Australian on December 15, 2010. (Photo: xinhua/AFP)

About 70 people were reportedly aboard the boat, including women and children. The asylum seekers are mainly from Iraq and Iran.

According to Sky News, 41 were rescued but the rest were unaccounted for.

The boat came into local waters early Wednesday without being detected by the authorities. The Australian newspaper reported that waves of four to five meters were washing over the steep limestone cliffs, and the boat was then smashed into rocks in heavy seas at about 6 am near Flying Fish Cove. It is the height of storm season for the area off Australia's northwest coast.

Customs crews and locals are frantically trying to save survivors of the wreck.

Local electrician Michael Foster involved in the rescue effort estimated that about 30 people died.

"By the time I got down there and saw what was going on, there was debris and people everywhere with life jackets on and so forth but a lot of screaming and carrying on," he told The World Today on Wednesday.

"With the horrendous seas as they are, the only thing that people could do from the mainland was really throw life jackets back into the water or just advise them to swim away from the rocks."

Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson told The West Australian he understood it was a very bad situation, but he was unclear of the details.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the incident highlights once again how very dangerous it is for people coming by boat, and why it is so important that the party do everything possible to ensure that these boats do not come in this way.

"It's extremely important that the government make a statement at the earliest opportunity to confirm what has taken place. Because I mean naturally there'll be all sorts of unofficial reports," Morrison told The Australian newspaper on Wednesday.

"I think it's important that some clarity is given to the events as soon as possible. This is a very upsetting event and potentially a very significant tragedy."

The Australian Federal Police has stressed that its response to the tragedy is ongoing, and its priority is to ensure the safety of "all involved" in the incident.

Meanwhile, the National Critical Care Trauma Response Center in Darwin of Northern Territory is on stand-by to assist with the treatment of the injured.

Trauma center executive director Len Notaras said his team is prepared to send doctors to the scene and to transfer patients back to Darwin if necessary.



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