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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Indonesia finds no sign of missing boat



Indonesian authorities say there has been no sign of a missing boat which was reported to be carrying dozens of Afghan refugees and had sent a distress signal.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said it had been contacted on Thursday afternoon by a refugee advocacy group which had spoken to people on the boat who said it was in distress.

AMSA said it had passed that message on to Indonesian authorities.

"There's no sign of the boat yet. Five rescue boats from police and the national search and rescue agency are near the area, and a helicopter is on its way," said Murtadi, a search and rescue official in Indonesia's West Nusa Tenggara province, on Friday.

He said they were searching off the coast of Sumbawa island, near the resort island of Bali.

A refugee advocacy group based in Brisbane said it had received a distress phone call from someone on the boat on Thursday, and alerted AMSA.

"Given the message was the vessel was actually sinking, we acted pretty quickly to contact the Indonesians," an AMSA spokesman told AFP.

He said Australian authorities had been told the boat was carrying about 60 people and was off Sumbawa island.

Ian Rintoul, the Australian refugee advocate who alerted AMSA, spoke to some of the people on the boat on Thursday.

"They could see Sumbawa but the boat was starting to drift to sea. The boat was starting to take water. The seas were pretty rough," he told AFP.

They were "extremely, extremely distressed - verging on hysterical at times," he said.

The refugees on board were mostly ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan, with some children on board, according to Rintoul's information.

On Sunday a Singapore-registered tanker rescued about 120 Australia-bound asylum seekers - all males and mostly Afghans and some Iranians - from their sinking wooden boat.

They disembarked in Indonesia after two days of refusing to get off the docked tanker and insisting they be allowed to continue their journey to Australia.

Thousands of asylum seekers head through South-East Asian countries on their way to Australia every year and many link up with people smugglers in Indonesia for the dangerous voyage, often on rickety, overloaded boats.

In December, a boat carrying about 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Christmas Island. Only 47 people survived.

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