Australia deployed its navy to help with a rescue operation after a boat carrying as many as 150 suspected asylum seekers capsized in Indonesian waters, the second such incident within a week.
A merchant vessel and tug are at the scene recovering survivors about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Christmas Island after a distress call was received at about 6 a.m. Sydney time today, Jo Meehan, a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said by telephone. Two navy ships are expected to arrive later today to help with the effort, she said.
About 90 people may have died after a similar incident June 21 near Christmas Island, an Australian territory about 2,600 kilometers northwest of Perth that is used as an immigration detention center for asylum seekers. There have been at least four such fatal incidents since 2010 as refugees seeking asylum, usually from the Middle East, pay illegal people smugglers in Indonesia thousands of dollars to ferry them in overcrowded boats to Australia.
The so-called boat people issue is hurting Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose Labor government is in a political stalemate with Tony Abbott’s opposition over where to base offshore refugee processing centers.
A group of backbench lawmakers, including independent members of parliament that support the minority government, are pressuring Gillard and Abbott to reach a compromise and devise a policy that will discourage people smuggling.
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