Many unaccounted for in Christmas Island boat incident

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Island (coloured yellow-top LH corner)
Image: Hoshie.

A boat travelling in rough seas capsized off the coast of Christmas Island early this morning. Inside the boat were approximately 70 asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq, many now of which are feared dead. Reports from Government sources indicate that 41 of the 75 asylum seekers were rescued. So far only 27 bodies have been recovered from the water, but authorities believe the death toll could rise to 50. The remainder of people were not accounted for. The incident is believed to have occurred at about 6:00am.

Residents of Christmas Island first attended the scene to assist in the rescue attempt. The residents rushed to the boat after hearing screams very early in the morning. They then went out and attempted to assist. Customs are believed to be attending the scene currently. Life jackets have been provided, but not every person on the boat has received one. Rough seas hampered rescue attempts. The boat, according to witnesses was upturned and surrounded by large quantities of debris after being smashed against rocks. It is located in the vicinity of Flying Fish Cove.

Gordon Thomson, president of the Christmas Island Shire stated that the incident was a "very bad situation". The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) expressed concern and sadness over the incident.

"We believe that far too many people are tragically losing their lives as they take desperate measures to escape conflict, persecution and poverty," said the UNHCR in a statement on its website.

Christmas Island hosts an immigration center which is currently housing over 3,000 individuals seeking asylum.