SYDNEY, (Reuters) – The crew and captain of an Indonesian boat packed with illegal immigrants grabbed life vests and swam away as it sank during a heavy storm, leaving more than 200 passengers missing, Australian media reported yesterday.
Surviving asylum seekers said terrified passengers on the boat that was heading for Australia were left to drown as it broke apart in stormy seas about 90 km (55 miles) off the coast of Java, Indonesia.
“The captain and six crew took the life vests and started swimming away,” Pakistani Saed Mohammad Zia, 18, told the Daily Telegraph.
“They were all from Indonesia. We lost sight of them in the big waves and we never saw them again. We don’t know if they were rescued.”
The number of survivors, missing and those feared dead is still not clear, authorities said of the latest of such disasters in recent years for immigrants travelling via Indonesia in search of a better life in Australia.
Many of the passengers on the wooden vessel, which sank on Saturday, are believed to be economic migrants from countries including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those that survived suffered severe dehydration and exhaustion after struggling to stay afloat in the rough seas, some clinging to wreckage for five hours.
“We were just praying to God that someone would help us. We thought it was the last of our life story,” said Esmat Adine, 24, from Afghanistan.