The body of a boy aged under one has been recovered by Customs officials after an asylum seeker boat capsized near Christmas Island overnight.
A search and rescue operation is continuing for eight people still missing after their vessel started taking on water 87 nautical miles north of the island yesterday.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare says 97 people from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were on board the boat, which officials believe came from Indonesia.
Those rescued last night have been taken to Christmas Island.
“Last night our officers rescued 88 people and they’ve recovered the body of a little baby boy,” Mr Clare told reporters.
The minister says authorities are doing everything they can to find those still missing.
“[The search] involves two of our Navy patrol boats, a merchant vessel as well as the Australian Air Force’s P-3 Orion aircraft and two charted Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) aircraft,” he said.
The alarm was raised yesterday morning after a man in Melbourne received a phone call from a person on the boat who said it was in trouble.
“At approximately 11:15am (AEST) the Australian Federal Police advised AMSA that they had received a call from a man in Melbourne, who said that he’d received a call on his mobile phone from a person on a vessel saying that the vessel was in trouble,” Mr Clare said.
“Information from the caller suggested that the vessel was disabled, it was taking on water, and that there were over 90 people on board.”
Mr Clare says when the Customs ship Triton arrived at the boat around 10pm (AEST) last night, the vessel was stationary.
“At approximately 10:30pm the Triton reported that a wave had broken over the vessel and it had taken on more water and had begun to sink,” he said.
HMAS Albany and HMAS Bathurst were called for extra assistance. Bathurst arrived at 1:20am this morning and Albany at 4am (AEST).
Mr Clare says a review will look at the response by Australian authorities.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me today to pre-empt or prejudge the work of our Rescue Coordination Centre or Border Protection Command,” Mr Clare said.
“These are part of the things that will be looked at as part of our standard internal review of all matters when a death at sea occurs.
“In these circumstances there is always a review conducted by Border Protection Command.
“It is also open to the West Australian coroner to conduct an independent inquiry of this search and rescue.”
Rudd says working with Indonesia is ‘now urgent’
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he was saddened to hear of the child’s death and the tragedy underlines the importance for Australia to continue to adjust its policies.
“That is why our response, in terms of elevating the work we do cooperatively with the Indonesians and others, is now urgent,” he said.
“That is why other measures, in terms of the continued adjustment of our border protection policy, are also critical.
“Right across our region there are events occurring which affect the flow of people and the actions of people smugglers, and this is one part of that, and it’s a tragic part of it.
“What we’re seeking to do is to work at multiple levels, working with the source countries, working with police and intelligence agencies, working with transit countries, working on the high seas, working on visa arrangements, working also on the criteria which are used… on whether or not a person has bona fide refugee status or not.
“This is an absolute priority for me, an absolute priority for the Government, to continue to adjust our policy to changing circumstances.”
By ABC News
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