Over 100 rescued after boat sinks in Indian Ocean
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS August 20, 2013 7:44AM
Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, left, talks with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, center, and Australia Immigration Minister Tony Burke before a special conference on Irregular Movement of Persons, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Aug. 20
SYDNEY — Rescuers pulled more than 100 suspected asylum seekers to safety on Tuesday after their boat sank in the Indian Ocean.
The boat sank about 140 miles north of Christmas Island, where Australia operates a detention camp for asylum seekers. An Australian navy ship hurried to the scene after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority received a call for help from someone on board Tuesday morning. When the navy ship arrived, the boat was partially submerged and passengers were struggling in the water.
Rescuers plucked 106 people to safety, the Customs and Border Protection agency said in a statement. Two people had minor injuries.
The search and rescue effort was continuing Tuesday afternoon, though it was unclear whether more people were missing. The maritime authority initially estimated 105 people were on board the stricken vessel.
Christmas Island, located 310 miles south of Jakarta, Indonesia, is a popular destination for asylum seekers who crowd into rickety boats at Indonesian ports and pay smugglers to take them to Australian shores. Hundreds have died while attempting the journey in recent years.
Australia is trying to discourage such risky journeys and announced last month it would no longer accept asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Instead, it is evaluating their claims and resettling verified refugees in Papua New Guinea or the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru.
The rescue came as government officials from 13 countries met Tuesday in Jakarta to discuss ways to better cooperate on the asylum seeker issue and stop people smugglers. In a final declaration, they agreed to review visa policies, enhance coordination and exchange information to deny entry and cancel the visas of smugglers and traffickers.
It said the countries of origin, transit and destination are committed to working together to develop an early warning system and share information and intelligence among diplomatic, immigration, border and law enforcement officers.
“We are taking every possible step we can to disrupt their networks, and make those who are responsible accountable for their actions,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.
Representatives from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand attended the one-day meeting. Iran was invited but did not attend.