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55 lost as boat capsizes in Indian Ocean

10 June 2013, 12:38

Canberra - Rescue authorities have given up hope of finding any survivors after an asylum seeker boat carrying at least 55 people to Australia capsized in the Indian Ocean.

The boat's submerged hull was spotted by air on Friday, and bodies, life jackets and debris have been spotted near Christmas Island, an Australian territory nearer to Indonesia than to the mainland.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority called off the air and search on Sunday night based on medical advice that no one could have survived any longer in the sea, a statement said.

The authority and border protection officials were discussing on Monday whether to mount a new search to recover the bodies, maritime authority's spokesperson Jo Meehan said.

The capsized boat was seen 120km northwest of Christmas Island, which is 500km south of Jakarta and 2 600km from Perth, the nearest major Australian coastal city.

A total of 13 bodies have been spotted, but ships did not interrupt the search for survivors to retrieve the dead.

The boat was stationary but appeared to not be in distress when it was first spotted by the crew of an air force plane on Wednesday afternoon, officials said. It was then 52km north of Christmas Island, where Australia runs a detention camp for asylum seekers.

The air crew counted 55 people on deck. They were mostly men, but also women and children, officials said. Their nationalities are unknown. Meehan said there could have been as many as 60 asylum seekers and Indonesian crew aboard.

Because of Christmas Island's close proximity to Indonesia, it's the most popular destination for asylum seekers who pay people smugglers to take them from Indonesian ports to Australia in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats. Many of the asylum seekers come from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka.

Several of the voyages have ended in tragedy with the loss of hundreds of lives as the boats have come in increasing numbers in recent years.

- AP


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