Indonesia searches for Afghan asylum seeker boat

Indonesia scoured its waters Friday for a drifting boat carrying dozens of Afghan asylum seekers as an Australian refugee advocate said they were still alive after fears the vessel had sunk.

The boat has been missing since it called for help near Sumbawa island in eastern Indonesia at 0650 GMT Thursday.

"I spoke to some of the people on the boat and they are OK but in need of assistance," said Ian Rintoul, who said he had received the telephone call in Brisbane at about 0600 GMT Friday.

"They still have no engine and they are still drifting."

There were fears the boat had sank after Rintoul spoke to people on board Thursday, and said they were in rough waters and extremely distressed.

He said there were more than 60 ethnic Hazara Afghans on board, including some families.

Rintoul said the vessel had been near Sumbawa on Thursday, but because it was without power and drifting those aboard no longer knew where they were.

Rintoul contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which told Indonesian authorities.

Indonesian searchers said Friday they had found no sign of the boat despite a helicopter search.

Marsudi, head of the search and rescue agency of West Nusa Tenggara province said: "We will continue the air search tomorrow, but our boats are still looking in the area."

Marsudi said Indonesian authorities could not speak to anyone on board.

"My prediction is that they may be hiding somewhere because they were unwilling to talk to us when we reached them by phone last night (Thursday)."

Before dusk Friday, agency spokesman Putu Cakra said there were reports that a boat had been found at Kuta beach on Lombok near Bali but it was not yet clear if it was the missing vessel.

"AMSA has given us information that a boat was detected below Lombok island, but we cannot deploy a helicopter now because it is already dark," Cakra said.

Authorities said they would continue the search for a week if necessary.

A Hazara association in Australia, which also said it had spoken to people on the boat, called on Australian authorities to help with the search.

"We were last contacted by people on the boat at 12:20 am Friday Perth time (1620 GMT Thursday)," said Ali Mohammadi, head of Australia's United Hazara Association.

"We are requesting the Australian government to coordinate with the Indonesian government and provide whatever resources and assistance are needed to search for the boat. There are over 60 people's lives at stake."

Each year thousands of refugees -- many in recent months from Afghanistan -- try to make the perilous journey through Indonesian waters in hopes of seeking asylum in Australia.

Many of the overloaded and rickety boats used by people smugglers for the journey do not make it.

On Sunday a Singapore-registered tanker rescued around 120 Australia-bound asylum seekers -- all males and mostly Afghans and some Iranians -- from their sinking wooden boat.

They finally disembarked in Indonesia, after refusing to get off the docked tanker for two days, insisting they be allowed to continue their journey to Australia.

In December, a boat carrying around 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Christmas Island, with only 47 surviving.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 49 minutes ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 4 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Audi TT Offroad concept debuts as a 124-mpg hybrid with wireless charging 4 hours ago
    Audi TT Offroad concept debuts as a 124-mpg hybrid with wireless charging

    The TT. Audi's diminutive sports car. Since production began in 1998, the two-door coupe has aged with the pugnacity of a grizzled New Yorker, but not in size. And why would it, as the arrival of the TT RS proved, adding some grit makes for a rather captivating dish. And so you'll excuse us for being puzzled by the Audi TT Offroad concept.

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.