106 rescued from sinking asylum-seeker boat
SYDNEY, Australia (3RD UPDATE) - 106 were plucked to safety from a sinking asylum-seeker boat off Australia Tuesday, with just two suffering minor injuries, rescuers said.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) had earlier reported a boat with approximately 105 people on board was in trouble.
It did not say if everyone had been accounted for, only that the rescue operation was continuing.
AMSA received a request for assistance from someone onboard the boat Tuesday morning. A navy ship and a customs and border protection aircraft responded.
A merchant vessel also joined the rescue effort.
"The vessel was upright, but partially submerged. A number of people were sighted in the water," an AMSA spokeswoman said.
"As at 3:30pm (0530 GMT, 1:30 pm Philippine time) HMAS Parramatta has reportedly recovered 106 people from the water.
"Two people are reported to have minor injuries. Search and rescue operations continue."
Asylum-seekers are a sensitive issue in Australia as their numbers increase, with more than 18,000 arriving so far in 2013, according to official figures.
Hundreds have drowned en route, most recently last month when a boat heading for Australia capsized off Indonesia leaving at least 15 dead, including 6 children.
The latest disaster came as Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Immigration Minister Tony Burke were in Jakarta for regional talks on people-smuggling.
Among others represented in the Indonesian capital are Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka — the origin countries of many asylum-seekers who arrive in Australia after perilous sea journeys.
The talks follow Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labor party last month unveiling a tough new policy banishing boatpeople arriving in Australia to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement even if they are genuine refugees.
The party has claimed the hardline stance is working, citing widespread evidence from Indonesia that asylum-seekers are demanding their money back from people-smugglers.
Rudd, who is trailing in the opinion polls to conservative rival Tony Abbott ahead of the September 7 election, has gambled his fortunes on the PNG circuit-breaker. While it has slowed the flow of smuggling boats, several have been intercepted in the past few days.
Abbott has pledged his own crackdown that would see all refugees put on 3-year temporary visas and forced into a work-for-welfare programme without family reunion, appeal or permanent residency rights - Rappler.com