90 Still Missing After Boat Capsizes Off Australia

Posted June 22nd, 2012 at 3:05 am (UTC-5)
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The search continues Friday for scores of people missing in the Indian Ocean after their crowded refugee boat capsized off Australia's remote Christmas Island territory.

The boat carrying around 200 asylum seekers overturned Thursday and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a news conference soon after the disaster that there had been a large loss of life.

“At this stage, details are sketchy but what is apparent is that there has been a large loss of life at sea. This is a very distressing and tragic incident. We don't know the full details yet, but clearly we have lost a number of lives in a very dangerous journey from Indonesia to Australia.”

Officials from Australia's Maritime Safety Authority said Friday that at least 109 people have been rescued. They were taken to a detention center on Christmas Island. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said there is still a chance that some of the around 90 people still missing could still be alive.

“We found about 40 people that were on top of the upturned hull and other people that were holding on to debris as much as three nautical miles away from the scene. There were life jackets that were on the boat that was on its way from Indonesia to Australia and obviously the people that we've been able to pick up last night have been picked up by the merchant vessel as well as by our patrol boats that arrived on the scene.”

Australia is a major destination for people fleeing impoverished, war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Many of them are crammed into crowded detention centers on Christmas Island and the Australian mainland.

In December 2010, about 50 asylum seekers died when the leaking, wooden boat in which they were traveling struck Christmas Island's rocky cliffs.