Children as young as three years old screamed for help as they
clung desperately to pieces of wreckage after a boat carrying
about 70 Asian asylum seekers crashed into rocks Wednesday at
Christmas Island off Australia, killing 27 people.
Christmas Island residents said they looked on helplessly as the
waves crashed into the boat near the Flying Fish Cove at about 6
a.m., Australian media reports said.
Rescuers recovered 27 bodies from the wreckage, while the Customs
and Border Protection said 41 people have been rescued.
Kamar Ismail, councillor of Christmas Island, which is an
Australian territory, said the asylum seekers appeared to be
mostly of Middle Eastern origin.
A doctor who had been briefed by the immigration department
confirmed that most of the survivors were of Iraqi and Iranian
"It was horrific, mate. I saw a person dying in front of me and
there was nothing we could do to save them," Ismail said.
"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 these."
"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," Ismail said.
A witness named Michael Foster said survivors were being ferried
to a customs boat in deeper waters as conditions were so bad that
there was "no chance to get on land … unless they helicopter them
"Most people were caught up close to the rocks and getting thrown
into the rocks, which wasn't very nice. Kids and women screaming
and people yelling out."
"Local people were trying to assist and throwing life lines out
but the horrendous conditions of the ocean at the moment wasn't
allowing anybody to get close," he said.
"And you didn't want to be anywhere closer to the cliff face
because it's razor-sharp and the four-metre swells plus were
throwing people around. It wasn't a very pretty sight."
Local people had thrown their own lifejackets, as well as those
supplied by customs and police, out to the stricken boat people.
"It's something we as a community do, no matter what colour or
race you are, once we see something like this we work together.
It's our duty as a citizen to help people like that, and we did
the best we could," Ismail said.
Christmas Island resident Mick Tassone was watching the tragedy
unfold 200 metres away.
"I'd say they just hit the rocks and have broken up. They had no
chance," he said.
"Unless they pick them up very quick I don't think they have much
chance of surviving, its very rough. There was a lot of screaming,
it was very rough out there."
"There is debris out in front. The hull is just floating past me
now. It is broken up into bits and pieces. I have seen a lot of
things that could have been people. It is raining and hazy but I
wouldn't doubt they could have been bodies," Ismail said.
"I presume there are a lot of bodies in the water, probably all of
them," he said. Several navy boats were still cruising around and
attempting to make a rescue. "It is just about impossible to get a
boat in a water off the island," he said.
Another witness said the situation was "pretty ugly". "The locals
are throwing life jackets and ropes over the cliffs, but there's
bodies floating around out there," he said.
One man with cuts was rescued and was taken away in an ambulance,
the witness said.
"The boat's been destroyed. We can't get to them. The cliff face
is around eight metres high."
In recent months, more than three boats a week have been arriving
at Christmas Island.
They are loaded with mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers who have
paid people smugglers for their passage across from Indonesia's
Java Island in rickety fishing vessels.
More than 2,000 asylum seekers are in the Christmas Island
immigration detention centre and 3,000 more are held on the
Christmas Island, which has a permanent population of 1,400
people, is 360 km south of Java and 2,600 km northwest of Perth.