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50 Feared Dead As Boat Carrying Iraqis, Iranians Smash Into Australian Cliffs

Up to 50 people are feared dead after a boat filled with desperate asylum-seekers crashed into cliffs and overturned near an island off the west Australian coast today, reports Daily Mail, London.The screams of people
PTI December 15, 2010 23:08 IST
Up to 50 people are feared dead after a boat filled with desperate asylum-seekers crashed into cliffs and overturned near an island off the west Australian coast today, reports Daily Mail, London.

The screams of people thrown into the water could be heard by residents on Christmas Island as rescue boats sped to the wrecked vessel.

The wooden boat, which is believed to have set off from Indonesia carrying about 80 asylum seekers, smashed into the cliffs near Flying Fish Cove on the north of the Island resulting in what authorities said were an 'unknown number of dead'.

A number of people were rescued in the aftermath of the incident. 'It is heart-stopping,' said one resident who saw people struggling in the wild sea. 'It's carnage, a terrible tragedy.

'The sea is awash. None of us can get out to rescue them from the shore. It took a customs boat ages to get to them.'

The screams of people in the water were so loud that residents heard them above the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks.

Christmas Island councillor Kamar Ismail said the asylum seekers appeared to be mostly of Middle Eastern origin. A doctor confirmed most of the survivors were of Iraqi and Iranian nationality.

Mr Ismail told of the carnage, saying: 'It was horrific, mate. I saw a person dying in front of me and there was nothing we could do to save them.

'Babies, children maybe three or four years old, they were hanging on to bits of timber, they were screaming 'help, help, help', we were throwing life jackets out to them but many of them couldn't swim a few metres to reach them.

'The waves just kept on coming and smashed everything. When the navy boat came in, we just hugged each other. Just to see kids like that, I don't know what to say.'

Christmas Island resident Michael Foster, who joined in the rescue effort, said: 'By the time I got down there and saw what was going on, there was debris and people everywhere with life jackets on and so forth but a lot of screaming the carrying on.

'With the horrendous seas as they are, the only thing that people could do from the mainland was really throw life jackets back into the water or just advise them to swim away from the rocks.'

Wayne Swan, Australia's acting Prime Minister, said that while a number of people had been rescued 'sadly some bodies have been retrieved. It's a very difficult situation.'

Mr Simon Foster, an island resident, told the West Australian newspaper from a cliff overlooking the crash site that the boat was upside down in the sea and debris was scattered across the surface of the Indian Ocean.

'It seems the boat crashed into jagged rocks below the cliffs as it tried to land at Flying Fish Cove.'

Mr Foster said the seas were as rough as he had seen in many months, and it was through the wild weather that the boat had attempted to land at Flying Fish Cove, the only landing point on the island for vessels.

'There is so much stuff in the water that you can't tell what is debris and what is people.

'I have heard that a navy boat was cruising around picking people out of water but it it's hard to tell what's going on.

'I definitely would not want to be out in that water at the moment whether you were in the water or in a boat - it's shocking out there'

Mr Kamar Ismaill, a local councillor, rushed to the cliff top and saw at least two or three bodies in the water. He said: 'We were throwing out ropes and lifejackets but no-one could grab on to the ropes. I saw children hanging onto the side of the boat, just holding on.

'There were others hanging on to rocks and what was left of the boat.

'Wave after wave was coming in and it was very, very rough. The rocks were very jagged and it's a very steep area around there.

'It was just a horrible situation, just so sad.'

Phil Stewart, a documentary maker who is on Christmas Island, said he had heard reports that 50 people had died. 'Conditions were too rough for rescuers to get close enough to help many of the people,' he said.

'They were waving and shouting and screaming for help.They were desperate. By that stage they had been in the water for an hour already.