Afghans were among the 54 survivors from an asylum-seeker boat that disappeared two days ago off the Indonesian coast, but hopes of finding about 100 more missing people were fading fast yesterday.
“All survivors, including three with injuries, will be taken to Merak, Indonesia, for medical attention,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
The Australia-bound boat carrying about 150 people including children sent a distress signal early on Wednesday morning. It was about eight nautical miles from the Indonesian island of Java.
Alerted by Australia, Indonesia sent out a rescue team, but 10 hours later abandoned the search. Australian authorities took it up again and late on Thursday said 55 people had been pulled from the water.
Australian authorities revised the number of survivors down to 54 after one of those recovered died. They were handed over to Indonesian rescue teams and would be taken to the port of Merak.
“We have a window of opportunity — people can survive in the sea for up to 36, maybe 48 hours,” Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told reporters.
Indonesian and Australian rescuers said they would keep searching.
“The standard search period for us is seven days,” said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency.
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported that the rickety vessel was organized by a 25-year-old Pakistani people-smuggler.
More than 300 people have died en route to Australia this year, with vessels being stopped by the Australian navy on almost a daily basis.