Up to 20 feared dead in another asylum seeker tragedy

Around 20 asylum seekers are believed to have drowned when their boat sank yesterday morning while on their way to Australia.

The boat carrying the asylum seekers went down just hours after leaving from a port in Central Java. Indonesian authorities confirmed the deaths of at least seven people last night. The death toll was expected to rise as more people are still missing.

The boat was said to be carrying about 70 asylum seekers who had arrived in Indonesia from the Middle East. It capsized near Nusakambangan Island in the early hours of yesterday morning after taking on water for about two hours.

In 2001, about 140 Afghan refugees were detained on Nusakambangan after their boat, which was en route to Christmas Island, sank in rough seas.

On December 15 last year, up to 50 people died when their wooden boat was smashed into pieces on Christmas Island’s rocky shoreline.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said the government believed that the asylum seeker deaths at sea can be prevented through the swap agreement that was struck with Malaysia.

But Julia Gillard’s government was forced to abandon its Malaysian people swap deal because of a parliamentary impasse last month.