4 Jul 2012

Asylum-seeker boat continuing journey in rough seas

6:19 pm on 4 July 2012

An asylum-seeker boat that sent out a distress signal south of Indonesia is continuing its voyage towards Australia despite being buffeted by heavy seas.

Passengers told the Australian Maritime Safety Authority the engine had failed and the boat was taking on water about 50 nautical miles south of the country on Wednesday.

The boat is believed to be carrying between 130 and 180 asylum-seekers and was on its way to Christmas Island.

The Australian Search and Rescue Authority has urged the boat to turn back to shore, the ABC reports.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says the HMAS Wollongong arrived to find the boat moving very slowly south. He says there was no visible sign of distress on the boat, but the weather is very rough.

A merchant ship is also at the scene, and HMAS Leeuwin is expected to arrive in the area on Wednesday evening.

Two boats carrying asylum seekers capsized in a similar area in the past fortnight, with the loss dozens of lives.

The tragedies have prompted Australia and Indonesia to pledge stronger cooperation aimed at stopping asylum seekers trying to make the dangerous boat journey.