Australian authorities were scouring remote seas for survivors Saturday after a people-smuggling boat carrying 97 people including Sri Lankans, went down, with 88 people rescued so far and the body of a baby found, the AFP news agency reported.
Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the boat first issued a distress call in rough seas north of Christmas Island, between Australia and Indonesia, on Friday morning.
Rescuers were unable to reach the scene until 10:00 pm (1200 GMT), and a short time later Clare said a huge wave broke over the boat and it began to sink.
“Last night our officers have rescued 88 people and they’ve recovered the body of a little baby boy,” Clare told reporters, adding that the infant was reportedly less than a year old.
“The advice to me is that there were 97 people on board and a search and rescue effort is happening right now.”
Two navy patrol boats and a merchant vessel were combing the seas 87 nautical miles north of Christmas Island, along with a military aircraft and two maritime rescue planes.
The ill-fated ship was believed to have originated in Indonesia with passengers from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Clare said.
Clare said the 88 plucked from the sea overnight had been transferred to immigration detention on the remote island, Australia’s main facility for holding asylum-seekers arriving by boat.