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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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50 feared dead after asylum ship sinks off Christmas Island

Refugee advocate accuses Australian authorities of knowing the ship was heading for the island.

People clamber on the rocky shore on Christmas Island during a rescue attempt as a boat breaks up in the background this morning.
People clamber on the rocky shore on Christmas Island during a rescue attempt as a boat breaks up in the background this morning.
Image: ABC/AP/Press Association Images

DOZENS OF PEOPLE ARE FEARED drowned after a ship carrying asylum seekers heading for Australia crashed onto cliffs at Christmas Island.

The boat ran aground at around 6am local time (11pm Irish time) and was completely destroyed.

One witness who was on the island at the time told Sky News that people were unable to get off the boat to safety after it first struck rocks. He described feeling “useless” as people were unable to enter the water to help rescue people due to conditions at sea.

A naval vessel and two smaller boats travelled to the area to try and rescue people. It is understood the naval ship picked up some survivors, while other boats took bodies from the sea.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service said 30 people were being treated for injuries and three of those are critically ill.

The BBC reports that the boat is believed to have been carrying Iranians and Iraqis, although it is not known how many people were on board the vessel.

Australia has an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island which is already filled to capacity and which Amnesty International has criticised for its “extreme detention conditions”.

A refugee advocate has claimed that Australian authorities knew the boat was bound for the island before it crashed, according to ABC News. Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Australia called for an investigation into why the boat came so close to landing at the island, given the amount of surveillance done in the area.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said there were reports of three-metre-high waves off Christmas Island and said the islanders were devastated by what they witnessed.

This ABC News footage shows strong waves forcing the ship against rocks:

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