Children Overboard in Australian Navy Rescue

SYDNEY, Australia ~ Sixteen apparent immigrants, including 10 children, fell overboard during a dramatic rescue by the Australian navy as their boat sank in high seas, a minister said on Wednesday.

Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said all 16 – 10 children, three women and three men – slipped into the Timor Sea as officers tried to move them on to navy ships HMAS Ararat and HMAS Tarakan.

“On attempting to commence the transfer of passengers using a rigid inflatable boat, two members of HMAS Ararat’s crew and six of the boat’s passengers fell into the water,” Nelson said in a statement.

“As the boat started to sink more quickly, the remaining passengers also entered the water.”

All 16 were pulled from the water unharmed, Nelson said.

Authorities so far have been unable to confirm whether the people are asylum seekers but Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, speaking on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Singapore, said they had come from Indonesia.

Downer said he had raised the issue with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda and the 16 were now being transferred to Australia’s Christmas Island by ship for processing.

“We understand that they come from Roti island in Indonesia. There are 16 of them – three men, three women and 10 children,” he said.

Downer said he told Wirayuda that it was not yet clear what the group was doing in Australian waters.

Meanwhile, a villager from impoverished Roti, located south of the Indonesian portion of Timor island, said 17 people left the village of Lunda Lusi for Australia on Monday.

“Three families left on Monday morning in a motor boat to look for a better life,” their neighbour Sadli said.

“They are heavily in debt because they cannot catch fish around the sand bar now owned by Australia,” he said, referring to Australia’s Ashmore Reef, where the villagers say authorities have cracked down on illegal fishing.

Australia takes a hardline stance against illegal arrivals and most are taken to the remote and impoverished Pacific island of Nauru for immigration processing in a bid to deter people-smuggling.

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