Refugee boat in distress off Indonesia: officials

Agence France-Presse
A people-smuggling boat carrying about 80 asylum-seekers was reportedly taking on water in seas south of Indonesia, Australian officials said Friday

SYDNEY, Australia – A people-smuggling boat carrying about 80 asylum-seekers was in distress and reportedly taking on water in seas south of Indonesia, Australian officials said Friday.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said two merchant vessels and a navy ship were steaming towards the scene, 42 nautical miles south of the Indonesian island of Java.

“It’s reported there are 80 people on board,” an AMSA spokeswoman told AFP.

“They are reporting that they are taking on water.”

AMSA said someone on the ship had called rescue authorities to report that they were in trouble and they had last spoken to the boat around 0600 GMT.

The authority was unable to say whether the boat was sinking, but said the merchant vessels could be at the site within an hour or two.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is currently in Indonesia for talks on tackling the thorny issue of asylum-seeker boats, a steady stream of which have made their way to Australia in recent years, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers have drowned on the dangerous sea voyage from Indonesia when their rickety, overloaded boats sank.

More than 13,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Australia by boat since January 1, piling pressure on the ruling Labor party in an election year.

It is a controversial political issue likely to loom large in the lead-up to polls to be held later this year. – Rappler.com

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