Conflict & Justice

A 2nd asylum seeker boat capsizes near Christmas Island, Australia


The asylum seeker boat carrying up to 150 people photographed by crew onboard MV Bison prior to the vessel sinking north of Christmas Island, Australia, on June 27, 2012.


Australian Maritime Safety Authority

At least one person has died after an asylum seeker boat capsized north of Australia's Christmas Island today, with more than 130 people onboard — mainly women and children from Afghanistan.

The sinking comes less that a week after another boat — carrying closer to 200 asylum seekers — capsized in waters between Indonesia and Australia.

Ninety of those onboard are believed to have drowned: a total of 110 were rescued and 17 bodies were found by the time the search for survivors was called off late on Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The latest sinking occurred in Indonesian waters about 125 miles from Australian territory, the Murdoch press cited a statement from Australian Customs as saying.

However, Australian Navy ships and search planes were deployed to help locate the survivors, with Australia's ABC News citing Indonesian officials as saying say they are ill-equipped to mount search and rescue missions.

Indonesia also claimed the asylum seekers sabotaged their own vessel, reported, although Australian authorities were yet to comment on the claim.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, meantime, said between 123 and 133 people were believed to have been on board.

Australia's Maritime Safety Authority reportedly said 125 people had been rescued.

More from GlobalPost: Prospects fade for more survivors from asylum seeker boat tragedy off Christmas Island

The sinkings have brought the divisive political debate around asylum seekers in Australia to a head.

The Australian Parliament on Wednesday evening debated changes to Australian laws on asylum seekers to allow "offshore" processing in Malaysia and Nauru.

However, the legislative assembly voted against the changes by 74 votes to 72.

The opposition wanted the bill to ensure refugees would only be sent to countries signed to the UN refugee convention, which Malaysia has not.

Asylum-seekers are a sensitive issue in Australia, AFP wrote, although "they come in relatively small numbers by global standards."

Many asylum seekers try to reach Australia on overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels operated by people smugglers based in Indonesia.

There has also been a spike in attempts from Sri Lanka.

More from GlobalPost: Australia: the truth about asylum seekers