90 still missing after boat capsizes off Indonesia

Indonesia boat mishap

A boat carrying about 200 people capsized south of Indonesia and scores were feared drowned today in an apparent attempt to reach Australia to seek asylum. Indonesian and Australian navies launched efforts to rescue survivors.

An Australian navy patrol boat and three cargo ships had rescued 110 survivors by late today and were taking them 200 kilometres south to the Australian territory of Christmas Island, Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Jo Meehan said.

She declined to comment on any bodies discovered. She said the patrol boat would return to the scene of the sinking to continue the search for survivors through the night.

The boat capsized about halfway between Christmas Island and Indonesia, Meehan said.

It was not immediately clear where the passengers were from.

Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a popular target for a growing number of asylum seekers, many from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who attempt to reach Australia on overcrowded fishing boats from Indonesia, sometimes with deadly consequences.

"There's about 40 on the hull and the rest are in the water," Western Australia state Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said earlier.

"Some of the very early reports suggest that up to 75 people may have drowned, but I do stress that they're unconfirmed at this stage."

O'Callaghan said bodies had been seen in the water. "We can't confirm that they've died, but it's likely," he said. Western Australian police were being sent to Christmas Island to attempt to identify bodies, he said.

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