Australian authorities said an asylum-seeker boat believed to be carrying 200 people capsized on Thursday off remote Christmas Island with an unknown number of survivors.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the ship issued a distress call mid-afternoon saying it had capsized 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island, some 2,600 kilometres off the Australian mainland.
“There is a capsized vessel 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island; there’s believed to be approximately 200 people on board,” an AMSA spokeswoman said.
“The Indonesian search and rescue authorities are coordinating the response. We can confirm there are survivors but we can’t confirm numbers at this stage,” she said.
Three merchant vessels and two Australian military ships had responded to a regional maritime alert and were on their way to the site, and there was a fixed-wing P3 Orion aircraft on the scene, she said.
A number of other asylum boats have been intercepted in the area in the past 24 hours carrying more than 100 passengers, prompting Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare to issue a statement calling for an urgent political compromise.
“Let’s remember what this is all about — 200 people died off the coast of Indonesia and another 11 died off the coast of Malaysia,” Clare said in a statement earlier on Thursday, referring to previous tragedies.
Indonesia is a common transit point for asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia’s Christmas Island, which is closer to Java than mainland Australia, and many of the overloaded rickety boats do not make it.
There have been 62 boats intercepted off Australia so far this year carrying 4,484 boatpeople, an unprecedented number in a six-month period.
In December, a boat carrying around 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Christmas Island, with only 47 surviving.
Some 50 refugees were killed in a horror shipwreck on the remote island’s cliffs back in December 2010 when their leaky wooden vessel was dashed on the rocks.
Fifteen were children aged 10 years or younger, with one passenger just three months old.