Sri Lanka Navy photos of the incident.
Sri Lanka Navy photos of the incident.

Asylum seekers starve to death after 21 days without food

THE bodies of almost 100 Burmese asylum seekers reportedly bound for Australia had to be thrown into the ocean after they died of starvation.

A vessel carrying 32 asylum seekers, which set out on its voyage two months ago, was rescued off the Sri Lankan coast by the Sri Lankan Navy on Saturday.

The survivors, who had been without food for 21 days, told their rescuers they had to throw overboard the bodies of 98 people who had died from starvation and dehydration. The survivors consisted of 31 men and one boy.

Australian Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor told Fairfax radio on Thursday he was yet to be briefed about the tragedy.

Mr O'Connor said it was his understanding the survivors told their rescuers the vessel was bound for Australia.
"I'll be getting a full briefing on this as soon as possible," Mr O'Connor said.

Mr O'Connor said the deaths highlighted the risks people took when they boarded rickety vessels in a bid to reach Australian shores.

"Now this is another example where we've witnessed, by way of photos, the awful consequences of getting on dangerous vessels and we saw that, of course, back in December 2010 with the vessel foundering on the rocks of Christmas Island," he said.

"But, of course, this has gone on for a very long time. In October 2001, of course, 400 people perished on SIEV X.

So it's not new but I think people need to understand how important, therefore, it is that we send the message that it is too dangerous to get on these vessels and too many people perish at sea and that's exactly why the government is determined to implement the Houston recommendations as put to us in August last year."

News of the deaths came as Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare revealed a boat carrying 91 people capsized during a rescue by an Australian Navy ship north of Christmas Island on Wednesday.

The vessel was initially detected by an RAAF maritime patrol aircraft and the merchant vessel ANL Warringa assisted in monitoring it overnight on Tuesday until HMAS Parramatta arrived on the scene.

HMAS Parramatta assisted the vessel as it continued to track towards Christmas Island, with crew from HMAS Parramatta boarding the vessel later on Wednesday.

The passengers were transferred to the Navy ship owing to concerns about the seaworthiness of the vessel.

As the final passengers were being transferred the vessel capsized and a number of people ended up in the ocean.

HMAS Parramatta reported it was confident all people were recovered from the water with some people receiving minor injuries.

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