5 believed dead after boat sinks in Indian Ocean

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Associated Press

Posted on August 19, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 20 at 6:37 PM

SYDNEY (AP) — Five people were believed to have drowned after a boat carrying more than 100 suspected asylum seekers sank in the remote Indian Ocean.

The boat sank on Tuesday about 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Christmas Island, where Australia operates a detention camp for asylum seekers. An Australian navy ship hurried to the scene and found upon arrival the partially submerged boat and passengers struggling in the water.

Rescuers plucked 106 people to safety, but five other passengers remained unaccounted for and are believed to have drowned, the Customs and Border Protection agency said in a statement.

The search was called off Tuesday night.

Christmas Island, located 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Jakarta, Indonesia, is a popular destination for asylum seekers who crowd into rickety boats at Indonesian ports and pay smugglers to take them to Australian shores. Hundreds have died while attempting the journey in recent years.

Australia is trying to discourage such risky journeys and announced last month it would no longer accept asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Instead, it is evaluating their claims and resettling verified refugees in Papua New Guinea or the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru.

The rescue came as government officials from 13 countries met Tuesday in Jakarta to discuss ways to better cooperate on the asylum seeker issue and stop people smugglers. In a final declaration, they agreed to review visa policies, enhance coordination and exchange information to deny entry and cancel the visas of smugglers and traffickers.

It said the countries of origin, transit and destination are committed to working together to develop an early warning system and share information and intelligence among diplomatic, immigration, border and law enforcement officers.

"We are taking every possible step we can to disrupt their networks, and make those who are responsible accountable for their actions," Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

Representatives from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand attended the meeting. Iran was invited but did not attend.

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