UK

Australia Leaves Asylum Seekers' Bodies In Water After 55 Drown Off Christmas Island

10/06/2013 09:50 BST

Australia will not recover the bodies of at least 55 asylum seekers who drowned when their boat sank close to Christmas Island last week.

The country's Customs and Border Protection agency said no attempts would be made to recover the bodies of the deceased, although rescue workers have been searching for survivors. None have so far been found.

Few politicians or even refugee campaigners in Australia have condemned the decision to leave the bodies in the water.

australia asylum boat

A fishing boat carrying Vietnamese asylum seekers nears the shore of Australia's Christmas Island (file photo)

The AFP news agency said around 13 bodies had been spotted floating lifeless in the waves, but no attempts have been made to recover and bury them.

Border Protection Command’s Rear Admiral David Johnston told the Sydney Morning Herald om Sunday: "The recovery of bodies is complex and time consuming. So all the surface vessels are continuing because it remains possible that there are survivors in the water, that’s where their focus is."

Former ambassador Tony Kevin, who has authored a book on the plight of asylum seekers to Australia, told The Age newspaper that there needed to be an urgent inquiry into why it took so long for the Border Protection Command to send a boat to to aid the flailing vessel.

"I contend that if they’d taken prompt interception or assistance action by a surface vessel on Wednesday afternoon, those 55 people would still be alive," he said.

Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens Senator, said the time had come for a policy overhaul.

"We have the harshest policy that this country has ever had on asylum seekers at the moment, and yet people are still coming," she told ABC News 24.

The boat sank less than 30 miles from the coast of Christmas Island, with 55 people believed to be on board including women and children. The Herald said authorities did not receive a distress call.

"This is another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder of how dangerous these journeys are," Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.

"The search has now concluded," a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which had coordinated the search and rescue operation, told AFP on Monday.