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More Than 350 Migrants Drown Off Java

Tue Oct 23, 2001 9:08 am

More than 350 mainly Iraqi migrants have drowned off the coast of Indonesia after their boat, headed for Australia, sank in rough waters.

About 400 people are believed to have been on board the boat when it sank on Friday, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is currently taking care of 44 survivors who were pulled from the sea.

One eight-year-old old boy who was rescued said he had lost 21 members of his family.

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Jakarta says the boat was headed for Christmas Island, Australian territory favoured by immigrants looking to get onto the mainland.

The passengers were mainly from Iraq, but there were also Iranians, Afghans, Palestinians and Algerians on board.

Engine failure

According to survivors' accounts cited by the IOM, 421 people were on board when the vessel set sail last week.

Our correspondent says there would have been more, but a small group refused to leave dry land when they saw the condition of the boat.

Several others were also dropped off later as they feared the ship would not survive the hazardous journey to Christmas Island.

On Friday morning, the captain warned his passengers that his engines had stopped, and the boat was taking on water. Within 10 minutes, the boat had sunk.

Local fishermen picked up the survivors they could find and took them to Bogor, south of Jakarta, where they are being treated by an emergency IOM team.

Many of the survivors have broken limbs.

Hard line

Indonesia is the final stepping stone for many illegal migrants trying to reach Australia. Indonesian authorities estimate that there are some 5,000 people currently awaiting transit.

An IOM spokesman in Jakarta told the BBC that this incident has heightened concerns that smugglers are now trying to pack more and more people on board boats which are barely sea worthy.

In August, a Norwegian freighter rescued more than 400 people from a sinking Indonesian ferry heading for Australia.

Australia has since adopted a hardline attitude towards the so-called boat people, a stance which has earned Prime Minister John Howard widespread support within the country.

Some migrants seeking to enter Australia have been diverted as far away as the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

Source: BBC NEWS

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