Concerns for a group of people feared drowned in Indian Ocean | Asia Pacific

Concerns for a group of people feared drowned in Indian Ocean

Concerns for a group of people feared drowned in Indian Ocean

Updated 6 January 2012, 10:35 AEDT

There are grave concerns for a group of people feared drowned in the Indian Ocean, about half way between Sri Lanka and Australia.

Presenter:Alexandra Kirk

Brendan O'Connor, Australia's Minister for Home Affairs; Kevin Rudd, Australia's Prime Minister

KIRK: Australia's Customs and Border Protection Service says the Maritime Safety Authority received the first distress call just after seven yesterday morning Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time but the information wasn't clear. The position of the leaking boat wasn't determined for another three hours.

The Authority issued a distress call to all boats within 12 hours' reach just after 11.

It was another 5 hours before the first boat arrived on the scene.

The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor isn't saying if they're asylum seekers or where they're from.

The Border Protection Service says survivors claim 39 people were on board. The Minister says there were as many as 40.

O'CONNOR: As recently as just some minutes ago another person was rescued on the LNG Pioneer. That now accounts for 19 of the passengers that were on the vessel that has sunk. I can also confirm that the RAAF P3 aircraft that went to the assistance of this vessel and those passengers has spotted two people in the water and has provided, has effectively sent an inflatable raft to those two people currently in the water and the two commercial vessels continue to provide assistance to the passengers at this present moment.

KIRK: The Government says it hadn't been tracking this boat.

Officials say a small Taiwanese fishing trawler was the first on the scene, telling the Safety Authority that a boat was taking on water but wasn't sinking.

The trawler was too small to take all those aboard, so it stayed alongside the leaky boat until a massive Bahamas-flagged merchant ship, the LNG Pioneer, arrived.

PM's been told all ended up in the sea, when their boat capsized, just as the tanker approached.

The Government says it was pitch dark, with no moonlight, making search and rescue very difficult.

Three aircraft have been dispatched to search for more survivors 350 nautical miles north/north west of Cocos Island, an RAAF P3 Orion surveillance plane fitted with sensors, including infra-red detectors, a customs Dash 8 and a Royal Flying Doctor Service jet.

They're working with the two boats already there with no Australian government vessels anywhere near the area.

O'CONNOR: It would take 28 hours sailing time for the closest vessel to reach this particular area.

We have. the Australian search and rescue zone is 53 million square kilometres, it is one tenth of the world's surface, it is a massive area.

KIRK: The Prime Minister isn't saying where the survivors will be taken.

RUDD: I do not have that information available to me now either because all of the efforts right now are legitimately dedicated to attending to lives at risk at sea.

KIRK: Minister O'Connor says no decision's been made yet.

O'CONNOR: We will do everything we can to recover all passengers and prevent people, wherever possible, perishing in this tragic situation. At that point, the masters of the vessels will determine, in conjunction with the Australian Safety Maritime Authority where the safest port will be, that may well be Christmas Island, it may well be another port.

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