A Lebanese asylum seeker described yesterday how she lost two children and her husband when their overcrowded boat sank in Indonesia, leaving at least 22 dead and scores still missing.
Nazime Bakour, 32, groaned in pain when asked how she felt about her loss, fighting back tears as her eight-year-old son, the only other survivor in her family, slept beside her in a medical center in southern Java.
“I happy he is alive. My husband and two [other] children dead. They three and seven [years old],” Bakour said, wearing an Islamic headscarf and a long green robe.
“I have to swim. My husband swim very well, but the boat break and hit his head,” she said, recalling the boat being struck by a massive wave and breaking into pieces.
She saw her surviving son in the water and managed to grab him, before they were rescued by fishermen.
Twenty-eight people were plucked to safety but around 70 — including many children — were unaccounted for after the boat carrying people from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen went down off the main Indonesian island of Java, police said.
One Lebanese man escaped from the sinking boat by swimming to an island — but he believes his eight children and pregnant wife were killed, an official in Lebanon said.
The estimated 120 asylum seekers on board were at sea for five days, Bakour said, before their food and water supplies ran out and the two Indonesian crew admitted they were lost, deciding to turn back to Indonesia’s Java island, from where they left.
Bakour said she was from the north in Lebanon and feared “Syria will attack us,” pointing to two mosque bombings in August that left 45 dead.
“We leave Lebanon because not safe for my children. My husband said to me go to Christmas Island because save my children,” she said.
Indonesian rescuers resumed the search for survivors with a sole helicopter as strong waves kept search boats beached.
“The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They’re four to six meters. We hope conditions improve soon,” said Warsono, a police official in Cianjur District on Java.
Of the asylum seekers 22 are confirmed dead and 28 have been found alive.
“It’s only been one day, so we are still hopeful we can find more survivors. But until now, the helicopter has not sighted anyone at sea,” said West Java Search and Rescue head Rochmali, who goes by one name.
He said 14 of the 22 bodies that had swept ashore were adults, contrary to earlier reports that the majority of the dead were children.
The sinking was the first deadly asylum boat accident since Tony Abbott became Australia’s prime minister earlier this month and days ahead of his first state visit to Indonesia, where his tough boatpeople deterrence policies are likely to be the focus of talks.
Survivors said they were trying to get to Australia’s Christmas Island, closer to Java than mainland Australia, and are the latest to cross the treacherous stretch of water that has claimed hundreds of asylum seekers’ lives in recent years.
Abbott vowed to “stop the boats” during his election campaign as the country seeks to combat an influx of asylum seekers by sea, a highly divisive political issue in Australia.
He plans a two-day visit tomorrow to Indonesia, where senior officials have been rankled by his boatpeople policies, which include towing vessels back from Australia’s waters to Indonesia’s.