Tragedy off the coast of Christmas Island

Posted: December 15, 2010 in Articles

It has been reported that 27 asylum seekers have lost their lives off Christmas island as the boat they were travelling in was smashed to pieces.

A statement released by the customs and border protection service has stated that 41 survivors have been picked up from the waters along with a further 27 bodies.

The boat had crashed into jagged rocks along the Island early on Wednesday morning. Both women and children have been reported among the dead, according to Premier Colin Barnett.

One island resident, a Simon Prince was reported as saying “It was just horrible. People getting crushed. Bodies, dead children, the whole thing was pretty awful.”

“The rescue is being conducted in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions,” the customs department said. “The search and rescue situation is ongoing.”

As of this moment the nationality of the victims has officially been released though speculation suggests they would have been of Iraqi or Iranian nationalities.

“The rescue is being conducted in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions,” the customs department said. “The search and rescue situation is ongoing.”

Doctors from the Royal Flying Doctor Service have been sent to the island to treat the 30 injured victims. Three of the patients were critically injured, with two men suffering with head injuries and one woman suffering with blunt abdominal trauma.

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said the vessel was a people smugglers’ boat, however, it is still unclear where the passengers were from.

The island itself is a remote Australian territory situated closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a frequent target for refugee hopefuls, who are housed in a detention centre there. Australia has found itself a prime immigration hotspot for people from war ravaged countries like Afghanistan who see the country as a great place to start a new life.

News channels have been able to obtain pictures and some videos of the ship which show it crashing into the rocks and breaking apart. Images of people floating in the water amid the floating wreckage have also been obtained.

A witness living close to the crash site told reporters that early Wednesday morning he was awakened by the survivors calling for help.

“The engine had failed,” The witness said. “They were washing backward and forward very close to the cliffs here.”

The police were quickly summoned and they arrived as dozens of locals lined the cliffs edge. They watched helplessly as the boat slowly edged closer to the cliff. And in horror they watched as it smashed itself to pieces.

“When the boat hit the cliff there was a sickening crack. All the people on board rushed to the land side, which is the worst thing they could do, but I don’t think anybody could swim. I think there were about two lifeboats on board this thing,”

Lifejackets were thrown in an attempt to save as many lives as possible but many floated uselessly out to sea and many locals risked their own life climbing down the rocks to get the lifejackets to the people. Some of these people were unfortunately injured in the attempt.

One local resident, a Michael Foster watched stricken with horror as women and children screamed for help in the churning seas. Help that simply couldn’t be given.

“They had lifejackets on them, but the water was just pushing them up … and throwing them towards the rocks,” Mr Foster said. “It was a pretty horrible situation.”

An eyewitness  said “Eventually the navy did come around and start picking people out of the water but it was too late for some.”

Asylum seekers who illegally enter Australian waters find themselves sent to Christmas Island’s detention centre or sometime on to detention centres on the Australian mainland while their claims are being reviewed.

Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are some of the most common countries of origin for the asylum seekers in recent years. Many of these asylum seekers enter Australian water in cramped and barely seaworthy boats.



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