SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian rescue authorities on Sunday said a search for eight people missing after a boat carrying 97 asylum-seekers sank in remote seas had ended, with little chance anyone would be found alive.
A baby boy died and 88 people were plucked to safety after the vessel capsized some 87 nautical miles north of the Australian territory of Christmas Island on Friday morning.
Rescuers, alerted by a distress call, were only able to reach the scene late that evening and a short time later a huge wave broke over the boat and it began to sink.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the search and rescue operation was called off after dark on Saturday.
"This decision was made based on the high probability that anyone alive would have been found during the day and on medical advice on survivability," AMSA said in a statement on Sunday.
Two navy patrol boats, a merchant vessel, a military aircraft and two maritime rescue planes were involved in combing the seas.
The asylum-seekers on the boat, which originated from Indonesia, were from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, authorities said, with the survivors taken to Christmas Island for processing at Australia's main facility for holding asylum-seekers arriving by boat.
Hundreds of asylum-seekers have drowned on the dangerous sea voyage from Indonesia with the latest disaster following recent talks between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Rudd and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the issue.
It is a controversial political topic in Australia that is likely to loom large in the lead-up to national elections to be held later this year.
The conservative opposition accuses Labor of losing control of Australia's borders and proposes using the navy to tow back people-smuggling boats -- a plan not welcomed by Jakarta.
Rudd on Saturday said he would have more to say regarding policy changes on asylum-seekers ahead of the polls.