14 Jul 2013

Asylum boat survivor search now over

11:13 am on 14 July 2013

A search for survivors from an asylum seeker boat that sank near Christmas Island on Friday night is now suspended.

The Australian Maritime Search and Rescue Authority said the decision was based on the high probability that it was unlikely there would be any more survivors found.

The ABC reports 88 people have been taken to Christmas Island.

The body of a baby boy was recovered from the Indian Ocean on Friday night. Eight people were still missing.

The vessel started taking on water 87 nautical miles north of the island earlier in the day.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said 97 people from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were on board the boat.

Mr Clare said the alarm was raised at 7.15am (AEDT) after a man in Melbourne received a phone call from a person on the boat who said it was in trouble. He then contacted the Australian Federal Police.

Mr Clare said the vessel was stationary when the Customs ship Triton reached the boat around 10pm (AEST) on Friday.

"At approximately 10:30pm the Triton reported that a wave had broken over the vessel and it had taken on more water and had begun to sink," he said.

HMAS Albany and HMAS Bathurst were called for extra assistance. HMAS Bathurst arrived at 1:20am on Saturday and Albany at 4am (AEST), Mr Clare said.

The ABC reports officials believe the boat came from Indonesia.

Customs told AAP on Saturday night that two navy boats, a merchant vessel and aircraft were involved in the search for the eight missing people.

AAP reports Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the tragedy was "sadly no longer unexpected".

"Latest souls lost follow more than 1300 over last 5 yrs," he said on Twitter.

Mistrust cited

Earlier, former Australian ambassador Tony Kevin told the ABC that lives were being put at risk because of an attitude that asylum seeker distress calls should not be trusted.

"There's an entrenched doctrine in the Australian border protection and maritime safety system that distress calls from asylum seekers are not to be believed, that they're having a lend of us," he said.

"And as long as these attitudes persist in the system, they will go on putting lives at risk, lives that needn't be put at risk because we have the resources to intercept and save and rescue them."