More than 300 people are feared dead after an Australia-bound boat carrying illegal immigrants sank off the coast of east Java in Indonesia.
Strong waves wrecked the wooden boat, with passengers mainly believed to be illegal migrants from countries including Iran and Afghanistan, about 56 miles out to sea late Saturday night.
Just about 76 people of 380 people on board have so far been rescued, said Sahrul Arifin, the head of emergency and logistics at the East Java Disaster Mitigation Center.
Arifin said their search and rescue team began sweeping the water around where the accident took place but were now sending body bags to that area.
Many economic migrants from the Middle East attempt to cross the Indian Ocean in boats in search of greener pastures in Australia; and the route is used by many boats from the Middle East and Asia. In fact, the boats use Indonesia as a transit point en route to Australia.
Australia-based refugee advocate Jack Smit told Reuters the initial reports make it evident that the boat was overloaded.
He did not rule out the possibility of a new and inexperienced people-smuggling operator trying to make money quickly.
He said the boat reportedly left from the same port in Java as another that sank recently.
‘It all points to new operators, and also the population of the boats is changing,” Smit, of Project SafeCom Inc, told Reuters. ‘It seems to me it’s a new operator that took a risk that was too big.’