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HORROR: Hopes fade as search continues out at sea

  • AUSTRALIAN maritime rescuers will continue searching for survivors of a capsized asylum seeker boat, but hopes of finding more people alive are fading.
Indonesian and Australian authorities rescued 109 people at dusk on Thursday, including a 13-year-old boy, but have also pulled three bodies from the sea.
Between 90 and 100 people are unaccounted for, following the capsizing of the crowded vessel on Thursday afternoon, about halfway between the Indonesian island of Java and Christmas Island.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the chance of finding any more survivors on Saturday was remote.
"We're now past that key 36-hour zone when I'm told we have the best chance of saving people's lives," he told ABC Television.
"Border protection command is going to keep the team out there, keep working through the night.
"Planes are still out there, the boats are still out there and they'll continue to do that work tomorrow but I guess I've got to say to you that it's looking grimmer by the hour."
While Australian authorities are still engaged in a rescue operation, Mr Clare said identifying the deceased and retrieving their bodies would soon be a more important priority.
"The sea is getting rougher, it's deteriorated over the last few hours," he said.
"There might still be people alive but we're past that window."
Shattered and exhausted from their terrifying two-day struggle, the 93 survivors reached Christmas Island on navy and merchant vessels at 3am yesterday, with three men treated at the island's hospital. Another 16 were due to arrive last night.
Others were believed to be suffering hypothermia and dehydration and at least 10 were transported via ambulance to the island's small hospital. Many needed wheelchairs for the short journey down Flying Fish Cove's jetty to waiting buses.
Among the arrivals was a 13-year-old Afghan boy coming to terms with the death of up to 90 fellow passengers. There were also two seriously injured men - one believed to have spinal injuries.

The search, led by HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong and assisted by a number of merchant vessels and several aircraft, was continuing last night.

One Sydney family was desperately hoping for news of a young Iraqi relative, Samir Sabah, aged in his earlier 20s, who was believed to be on the boat.
"We are thinking, 'Have we lost our cousin or not?"' Auburn man Meshal Al Anazi, 33, said.
"He called his dad and said he was leaving (Indonesia) for Australia. We have not heard from him."
Survivors were offered phones at Christmas Island to call relatives to let them know they were alive, and there were no plans to interview them before last night.
Their arrival came as details emerged of the asylum seekers' distress calls over 40 hours before their leaky fishing boat capsized on Thursday. Passengers first called the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's (AMSA) rescue co-ordination centre at 10.00pm on Tuesday night - two days before the catastrophe.
They were well inside Indonesia's search-and-rescue zone.
After receiving the first distress call, AMSA notified Indonesia's search and rescue authority BASARNAS and Customs and Border Protection. A few hours later, at 1.30am Wednesday, AMSA was contacted by passengers again reporting they were in distress 70km south of Indonesia.
They were advised to turn back to Indonesia, with BASARNAS taking responsibility for responding to the emergency.
The distress calls to AMSA continued on Wednesday and Australian patrol boats were readied to respond.
By Thursday, the passengers' predicament was dire and by the time a Customs surveillance plane flew over the vessel - which had continued south and covered more than 100km - at 3.00pm the boat had overturned and 40 asylum seekers were clinging to the hull 200km north of Christmas Island.
Questions were being asked last night as to why Indonesia had not assisted with the rescue.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare yesterday said Australian authorities had been proactive in their response, adding: "I'm not going to second guess the actions they have taken."
Navy personnel and crew of three merchant ships, the first of which arrived at 5.40pm, plucked survivors from the water. Australian planes scouring the sea all day yesterday and overnight for survivors.
Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said the asylum seekers would have called AMSA, not Indonesian authorities because they would have faced indefinite detention if they had returned.
He said crews on people-smuggling boats carried satellite phones and the phone numbers for Australian search and rescue authorities in case of emergency.
"It is quite common, usually the crew have a satellite phone so they can make contact," he said.
The community of Christmas Island deployed their emergency plan but acting administrator Steve Clay expected some people to be distressed after the second asylum boat tragedy in just over 18 months: "I can't comprehend how people who are here are feeling and how distressing that might be for them.
"Some people on the island may have memories raised of December 2010. We have got to be ready for that and I will be talking to the community and have already and just making sure they understand they need to talk about it."
About 50 asylum seekers, including babies and children, were killed when a vessel smashed into rocks in December 2010.
A team of volunteers and local workers helped bring asylum seekers from the latest tragedy ashore.
Several bodies were taken to the island as more victims, some still wearing life jackets, were spotted in the water at the scene of the disaster yesterday.

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