Christmas Island search for migrants after boat sinks

Vietnamese asylum seekers arriving at Christmas Island (file pic April 2013)
Image caption A growing number of asylum seekers are heading for Australia via Christmas Island

A search for dozens of migrants whose boat capsized in the Indian Ocean has so far failed to find any survivors.

At least 13 people are known to have died when the boat went down, around 75 nautical miles (120km) off Christmas Island.

The boat was spotted on Wednesday but not thought to be in trouble. A search began the next day when it disappeared.

The Australian territory, 300 miles south of Jakarta in Indonesia, is often targeted by asylum seekers.

Before the boat disappeared, it was seen by an Australian air force plane whose crew counted 55 people on board.

No distress call was received by the Australian authorities but when a naval boat was unable to find it, a search was launched and the first body was spotted in the water late on Friday. More bodies were found on Saturday.

A number of boats and planes have since joined the search but no survivors have yet been found.

"This is another terrible tragedy," Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said. It was a terrible reminder of how dangerous such boat journeys were, he added.

Most of those on board were men, but there were some women and children too, he said. Their nationalities are unknown but migrants often make their way from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka to Indonesia, before heading for Australian territory by boat.

As hopes of finding survivors diminished, details of another boat in distress began to emerge.

Police received a call on Saturday night about a boat with engine trouble some 110 nautical miles north of Christmas Island, ABC News reported.

Christmas Island - which lies about 1,600 miles from Australia - is the closest area of Australian territory to Indonesia.

Several boats carrying migrants heading for Australia have disappeared in recent months.

The government in Canberra has tried to deter people from making the hazardous journey by re-establishing offshore processing camps for asylum-seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.