Australia calls off search for shipwreck survivors

Australia said it had called off the main search for survivors from a shipwreck on Christmas Island in which dozens of asylum seekers died, as tensions rose on the crowded immigration outpost.

Rescuers had continued the air and sea search until late on Friday, authorities said, but had decided on medical advice “that there is no longer any reasonable prospect that anyone in the sea could still be alive.”

“The Australian Federal Police will continue to conduct shoreline searches, including the use of police divers,” Customs said in a statement.

Emotions have been high on the Indian Ocean island since the wooden fishing boat crowded with families broke up after slamming against limestone rocks in heavy seas on Wednesday, as horrified residents looked on unable to help.

So far, 30 people have been confirmed dead and 42 rescued but refugee advocates say the vessel was likely carrying more than 90 people at it neared Christmas Island, which lies 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) from the mainland.

Asylum seekers on the island, which houses the country’s main immigration detention centre, have staged two protests since the tragedy, but officials have said that these have been peaceful and the centre remains calm.

Demonstrators at the protests, which were both on Friday and each involved about 70 people, expressed their frustrations at conditions inside the camp and the shipwreck deaths, an official said.

“Emotions are raw in our detention facilities on Christmas Island, it’s been a very difficult time for all involved,” Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney.

“As I understand it, there was also an air-conditioning failure yesterday caused by an island-wide power outage and that would understandably make people a little more distressed.

“But as I stressed, no protest achieves its desired outcome. If a process is about trying to achieve a different outcome of a processing of visa applications, that is not something we respond to in any way at all.”

Refugee campaigner Jamal Daoud said it was nonsense to suggest the protests were triggered by the breakdown in the air-conditioning on the remote tropical island, adding that inmates had been deeply affected by Wednesday’s tragedy.

Bowen acknowledged Christmas Island was under stress because of an influx of boatpeople this year, with thousands arriving in the past 12 months, and said that people would be moved to expanded accommodation as soon as possible.

The facility is currently holding close to 300 people more than it was designed to accommodate.

He said the centre would hold memorial services for the victims of the shipwreck, who were mostly Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish, on Sunday and Monday.

The wider Christmas Island community would hold its own service in the near future.

Customs confirmed Saturday that the dead were men and women of all ages, including one male infant and three female infants.

Six survivors were being treated at Royal Perth Hospital while the remainder of the 42 rescued were being accommodated on Christmas Island. – Yahoo News