This is disgusting, how could this happen? These people are first and foremost human beings for Christ sake. Somebody, a government, a department, someone has to put a hand of here, instead of buck passing and playing the blame game of previous governments. This should never ever of happened in what is supposed to be a safe asylum shelter for refugee seekers. If this was a bunch of Aussies can you imagine the uproar. It makes me feel sick…Friggin Gillard cut into her holiday for Oprah photo stunts she better be on board for this fiasco…This is criminal, allowing this to happen, they are not a boat load of sheep!
Asylum seekers killed -Governments have to take responsibility WHY HASN’T OUR PM MADE A STATEMENT ON THIS HUMAN TRAGEDY ON OUR SHORES YET? (PUTTING THE SPIN ON IT I IMAGINE…)
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LATEST 4.15pm: ROUGH seas are hampering rescue efforts off Christmas Island where up to 40 asylum seekers are missing, feared drowned, after their boat smashed on rocks.
Forty-one people have so far been rescued after the boat carrying between 70 and 80 people was destroyed when it crashed on to the rocks near Flying Fish Cove about 9am (AEDT).
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said some asylum seekers had died in the tragedy.
“Sadly, some bodies have been retrieved,” he said.
He could not say how many people had died or how many had been rescued.
Mr Swan said the rescue was still going on. He said he had interrupted Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is on leave, to brief her about “this serious incident”.
He said the priority was to continue with the rescue and that it was “too early” to discuss asylum-seeker policy.
Christmas Island residents were alerted to the unfolding tragedy when they woke to the screams of those on board the Indonesian vessel.
The Indonesian boat was carrying mostly families and children and some single men – most did not know how to swim and many did not have life jackets. The asylum seekers on board were mainly from Iran and Iraq.
Local resident Michael Foster rushed to the scene to find debris and people everywhere in the water.
“It was like a large washing machine, people screaming out, getting tossed around by waves,” Mr Foster said.
“The current was pulling people from south to north basically and along the face of the cliffs around 30 metres out and then there were swells that were picking people up and throwing them into the wall.
“It was pretty horrendous – women and children screaming and carrying on, as well, and men.
“They had lifejackets and they were hanging on to driftwoods and whatever from the debris.
“A big swell was picking them up in one particular area and they were getting closer to the rocks. The swell picked them up 30 to 40 metres out and was bringing them in and smashing them into the wall. It was pretty ugly.
“I have never seen such a volume or number of people like that and then knowing you are helpless to do anything is probably the hardest thing that people are going to have to try and sort out, especially when you have women and children there, yelling out. You can see they’re either related or they’re trying to help each other.”
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison paid tribute to the brave people who had tried to rescue the asylum seekers.
“What has occurred today off the cliffs of Christmas Island represents our worst fears realised. This is a terrible human tragedy,” he said.
“The lives of the men, women and children on these boats are as precious as our own and we mourn their loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones. For those injured and in need, we pledge to take care of them as they recover from this tragedy.’
“For the community on Christmas Island who have put themselves in harm’s way to assist those in need; this event will remain with them for some time. We stand by you as fellow Australians.”
Mr Morrison, who has been a strong critic of the Governemnt’s boat people policy, said: “Today is a day for sadness, not for policy discussion and analysis.”
But Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul blamed the Gillard Government for the tragedy.
“Government anti-refugee policy is responsible for the tragedy on Christmas Island,” he said.
“Our heart goes out to the people and their families of the asylum seekers who have lost their lives, so close to the possibility of protection.
“But the blame lies with the Australian Government. If the Australian Government was willing to properly process asylum seekers in Indonesia and resettle successful refugees in Australia, then far fewer people would get on boats to travel to Australia.”
Christmas Island resident Nick Tassone said he heard people on the boat screaming in terror early this morning.
“The refugee boat came past and there were heaps of people screaming,’’ he said. “They were being thrown about and I thought, ‘Where are they going to go?’’’
Mr Tassone said the boat was doomed the moment it approached Christmas Island.
“The oceans have been very rough the last few days on this side of the island. Impossible for a refugee boat to come in anywhere down the cove or anywhere (on the island),’’ he said.
Mr Tassone said the smell of diesel fuel filled the air as debris and bodies washed past his viewing point from the second floor of the Rumah Tinggi Hotel.
“There is debris everywhere … It’s hard to tell if we’re seeing bodies, but we could see their lifejackets. It was very hazy out there. The main bulk of the hull is just floating past me now,’’ he said.
Witness Phillip Stewart told Sky News what had unfolded was a “major tragedy”.
“We witnessed people drowning who did get off the boat but unfortunately were hit against the limestone rocks,” he said.
“We did witness one person jumping off a piece of flotsam and swimming to a naval rescue, but unfortunately what we witnessed was a major tragedy.”
Mr Stewart, who’s on the island making a documentary, said the asylum seeker boat was completely destroyed in the stormy conditions.
“There’s absolutely nothing left of the boat,” he said.
“It’s very steep cliffs and you’ve got waves of four to five metres breaking right up over the cliffs.”
A larger naval vessel was further out to sea and two smaller inflatables were involved in the rescue effort, Mr Stewart said.
“They were coming in trying to get as close to the people as possible to get them off.
“But the refugees … were in the surge zone, one of the most dangerous areas they could be.”
Life-long Christmas Island resident Kamar Ismail told ABC TV he and around 20 other locals tried to help by throwing life-jackets and ropes to the asylum seekers.
But he said it was too rough to get close and the boat was eventually swept on to the rocks and “smashed into pieces”.
“We just couldn’t help because it was too rough,” Mr Ismail said.
“It was very, very dangerous.”
Mr Ismail said people on the boat were calling for help before the vessel was destroyed and they were cast into the water.
The Christmas Island resident said navy rescue boats arrived 10 to 20 minutes after the asylum seeker vessel was destroyed on the rocks.
Asked if he was optimistic most of the passengers were rescued from the water, Mr Ismail said: “We hope so … but I’m worried for the kids.”
The Australian Federal Police said in a statement that it was responding to an incident with government agencies on the island.
“This response is ongoing and the AFP’s priority is the safety of all involved in the incident,” the statement read.
“A more detailed statement regarding this matter will be provided as soon as it is possible.”
Customs have mounted a search and rescue operation using inflatable runabouts and are throwing life jackets into the water. Christmas Island residents have also been seen throwing ropes into the water.
The seas have been extremely rough in recent days and so dangerous that a Customs vessel with about 100 asylum seekers onboard from two other boats that have arrived in recent days has been unable to unload them due to the danger.
A Navy vessel is also in the area. It had unloaded 11 asylum seekers last night.
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