SYDNEY: A baby boy died and eight people were missing after a boat carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia began sinking Saturday in the Indian Ocean, officials said.
Australian officials rescued 88 asylum seekers on Friday night after the boat began taking on water about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Christmas Island, an Australian territory 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Jakarta, Indonesia, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told reporters on Saturday.
The boat was carrying people from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and was headed for Christmas Island, where Australia operates a detention camp for asylum seekers, when it ran into trouble, Clare said. Someone on board then called a man in the Australian city of Melbourne, who alerted authorities. Rescue officials later received additional calls for help from others on board.
The Australian Navy, Customs authorities and a merchant vessel headed to the scene. Officials recovered the body of a baby boy, who appeared to be less than 1 year old, Clare said. The navy was searching the waters for 8 people who remained missing on Saturday.
Christmas Island is a popular destination for asylum seekers who crowd into rickety boats at Indonesian ports and pay people smugglers to ferry them to Australian shores. Hundreds have died while attempting the journey in recent years.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the latest deadly crossing proves the Australian government must change its border protection policies.
"Right across our region there are events occurring which affect the flow of people and the actions of people smugglers," he told reporters in Brisbane. "That is why our response in terms of elevating the work we do cooperatively with the Indonesians and others is now urgent."