Indonesia searches for boat carrying Middle Eastern asylum seekers

MATARAM, INDONESIA (BNO NEWS) — A boat carrying dozens of illegal immigrants remains missing in Indonesian waters after it is believed to have sunk on Thursday afternoon, local authorities said on Friday.

The wooden boat, which is carrying around 50 illegal immigrants from the Middle East, is believed to have sunk at around 1:50 p.m. local time on Thursday when it was southwest of the Maluk Strait in Indonesia’s West Sumbawa.

Mataram Basarnas communication staff member Wisnu Satrio told the Antara news agency on Friday that the immigrants – presumably asylum seekers trying to reach Australia – flagged for help when they were spotted by local air water police on Thursday afternoon.

According to Wisnu, Indonesia’s National Disaster Agency deployed a search-and-rescue team with the assistance of a helicopter from Denpasar, Bali. However, the rough waters and high waves made it difficult for rescuers to reach the scene.

Authorities believe the boat was trying to reach Australian waters, but the rough waves forced them to head back and report their emergency from waters off Southwestern Sumbawa. Shortly before the unidentified wooden boat went down, an unknown person called the Australian Embassy about the sinking vessel.

Last Sunday, Indonesian authorities rescued 120 asylum seekers, believed to be from Afghanistan and Iran, as their sinking boat was trying to reach Australia. The Singapore-registered MT Hermia tanker rescued the men and docked in the port city of Merak, located in the province of Banten in western Java, where the illegal immigrants were trying to be convinced to disembark but refused.

Indonesia is commonly used as a transit region for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia illegally. Over 200 people are believed to have died in December 2011 when a boat carrying people mostly from Afghanistan and Iran sank in Indonesian waters. Only 47 people survived the incident.

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