Hopes fade as search continues

Australian maritime rescuers will continue searching for survivors of a capsized asylum seeker boat on Saturday, but hopes of finding more people alive are fading.


Indonesian and Australian authorities rescued 109 people at dusk on Thursday, including a 13-year-old boy, but have also pulled three bodies from the sea.

Between 90 and 100 people are unaccounted for, following the capsizing of the crowded vessel on Thursday afternoon, about halfway between the Indonesian island of Java and Christmas Island.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the chance of finding any more survivors on Saturday was remote.

“We’re now past that key 36-hour zone when I’m told we have the best chance of saving people’s lives,” he told ABC Television on Friday night.

“Border protection command is going to keep the team out there, keep working through the night.

“Planes are still out there, the boats are still out there and they’ll continue to do that work tomorrow but I guess I’ve got to say to you that it’s looking grimmer by the hour.”

While Australian authorities are still engaged in a rescue operation, Mr Clare said identifying the deceased and retrieving their bodies would soon be a more important priority.

“The sea is getting rougher, it’s deteriorated over the last few hours,” he said.

“There might still be people alive but we’re past that window.”

Most of the survivors were taken to Christmas Island on Friday, with three men treated at the island’s hospital.

The search, led by HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong and assisted by a number of merchant vessels and several aircraft, was continuing on Friday night.

Mr Clare has revealed that the stricken boat’s crew first made a distress call to Australian authorities on Tuesday night and another early on Wednesday.

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