About 50 people are either missing or dead, 30 of them understood to be children, after the boat sank off Agrabinta, a remote area of the coast off the Cianjur region of west Java, after it got into trouble on Thursday.
Survivors say they rang Australian authorities for help on Thursday when both the boat’s engines broke during the voyage.
They say they tried to fix the engines but failed.
Eventually, the motor pumping water off the boat ran out of petrol and the boat started taking on water, asylum seekers say.
They then hit rough seas and capsized only 50 metres from the shore.
At least 28 asylum seekers have been found alive, but local authorities fear about 80 people were on the boat.
Survivor Abdullah Al Qisi says that as the boat broke up, only those who could swim made it to the shore alive.
After the sinking the beach was littered with broken pieces of the boat and the bodies of about 21 people, including many children.
One survivor told ABC News he had lost his whole family because Australian rescuers did not come when they phoned a day before the sinking.
“We called the Australian Government for 24 hours, they were telling us ‘we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming,’ and they didn’t come,” he said.
“We sent them the position on the GPS, exactly where are we, and we drowned and nobody came.
“This is because of the Australian Government. I want them to know that.”
Search operations were hindered because Indonesian rescue authorities do not have the capability to search during the night or in big seas.
Continuing large ocean swells meant rescue efforts were again delayed on Saturday.
The search is expected to begin properly today.
Mother and seven children among dead
Lebanese community leaders in Melbourne say a mother and her seven children are among those who drowned in the sinking.
Community leader Milad Bardan said about 40 Lebanese asylum seekers drowned or are missing, including Kawthar Taleb and her seven children.
Ms Taleb’s husband, Hussein Ahmad Khoder, swam to safety. Her sister, Raya, and her husband and three children also died.
We called the Australian Government for 24 hours, they were telling us ‘we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming,’ and they didn’t come.
Mr Bardan said the 40 victims are all from the same area in Lebanon’s north, where people-smugglers are targeting locals looking to flee the violence spilling over the border from Syria.
“Unless Syria settles down, more will come, definitely,” he said.
He said more asylum seekers from northern Lebanon are already en route to Australia, having paid people-smugglers about $20,000 each, and that the community is worried that more could perish at sea.
Relatives of those drowned and missing are gathering in Melbourne today to mourn.
Minister confirms phone call from vessel
A statement issued from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office has confirmed that Australian authorities received a phone call about the vessel.
But while survivors say they rang Australian authorities on Thursday, Mr Morrison’s statement says the call was made on Friday morning.
It says the Australian Maritime Safety Authority coordinated the initial rescue effort and notified the Indonesian search and rescue agency.
A merchant vessel responded, as well as an Australian Border Protection Command aircraft, but neither could locate the vessel.
“Australian government officials in Jakarta are seeking additional information from their Indonesian counterparts, including seeking to confirm where the vessel foundered. It is believed to have gone down in Indonesian territory,” the statement says.
“Any loss of life is tragic and this latest incident again reflects the dangers of people smuggling.
“The Australian Government expresses its deepest sympathies to those affected by this tragedy for their loss and will continue to provide any assistance required by the Indonesian government.”
Coalition frontbencher Mathias Cormann said on Sunday morning the boat sank in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone.
“Australian authorities immediately contacted Indonesian authorities and, of course, there was very close co-operation as is appropriate in those circumstances to deal with unfolding even as quickly as possible,” he said.
Australia returns rescued asylum seekers to Indonesia
Indonesia’s rescue agency Basarnas is showing reluctance to keep taking asylum seekers rescued by Australian authorities.
At least twice in less than three days Australian authorities rescuing asylum seekers off the coast of Indonesia have insisted that Indonesian authorities help transfer them back to the mainland.
The move had previously only happened once, in August last year, when an Australia Navy ship transferred dozens of asylum seekers to Indonesia in the middle of the night.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority told its Indonesian equivalent last week of it’s “preference” to transfer asylum seekers back to Indonesia.
But a senior contact in Basarnas has told the ABC that it will resist attempts by the Australian Navy to continue the transfers, and may even refuse.
Labor leadership candidate Bill Shorten told the ABC’s Insiders program this morning that a sustainable relationship with Indonesia is essential for good Australian policy on the issue of asylum seekers.
“We’ve seen the reports in the last 24 hours of this tragedy at sea. That’s the most important issue, the protection of human life,” he said.
“In terms of how the current Government is going, sooner or later they’re going to work out that three word slogans don’t solve issues or refugees or immigration and one of the key platforms or planks to making sure we’ve got a safe and sustainable policy is to have a good relationship with Indonesia.”
Mr Shorten also criticised Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who yesterday refused to answer questions from journalists about the asylum boat tragedy.
The Government has implement weekly briefings on news about asylum boats rather than provide more timely information.
But Mr Shorten says Australians need to know when there are deaths at sea.
Mr Morrison’s press statement on Saturday was the first official confirmation from the Government about the asylum boat’s sinking and rescue operation.
The Prime Minister will head to Jakarta on Monday for high-level talks with the Indonesian government.
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