Infants Among Shipwreck Dead

The Federal Government has revealed seven children were among the 28 asylum seekers killed when their boat was wrecked against rocks off Christmas Island yesterday.

Three boys and four girls died, along with nine women and 12 men. Four of the children were infants.

Of the 42 survivors, 25 are men, eight are women and there are nine children.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says authorities have not yet established the relationships between the survivors and those killed.

“There are translators are assisting the counsellors and the medical practitioners in order to ensure we have as much information as we can,” he said.

“At this point our focus is attending to the care of people who have been traumatised because of this tragic situation.”

He says three Indonesian crew members are among the survivors. It is thought that up to 100 passengers were aboard the boat.

Authorities say they hold little hope of finding anyone else alive, and earlier today Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned of a rising death toll.

Ms Gillard proposed a bipartisan committee to receive briefings on the disaster and help manage the Government’s response, but the Opposition has declined her offer.

Acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says there is already an established procedure for managing disasters and the Coalition maintains its right to hold the Government to account.

Representatives from the Greens and the independents were also invited to join the committee, with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young signalling her party’s willingness to participate.

Senator Hanson-Young says she wants more detail, but she does not understand the Opposition’s reservations.

Independent inquiry call

Ms Gillard says there will also be criminal and coronial investigations into the incident, but Australian Lawyers Alliance director Greg Barns says there needs to be an independent inquiry.

“We want to stop politicians having a blame game by dancing on the graves of those who have perished and have an independent judicial inquiry which can look at matters empirically rather than what politicians tell us has happened,” he said.

Mr Barns says questions need to be asked about the Navy’s response.

“It is important the Australian Navy and our Customs boats and any other border protection facilities fully understand the law in relation to rescuing people who are in danger,” he said.

“If it is the case that our boats simply have a policy of shadowing these uncertain vessels to try to get them out of Australian waters, that seems to be unsatisfactory.

“What they should be doing is bringing those people to safety.”

Refugee advocates and independent MP Rob Oakeshott have also questioned why the boat was not intercepted before it smashed into the rocks.

Mr O’Connor says Customs and the Navy were not tracking the asylum seeker boat.

He says it is not possible to track every vessel and the treacherous conditions made it even more difficult.

“We have 18 vessels and 17 aircraft surveilling what is thousands and thousands of square nautical miles,” he said.

“The circumstances here are very, very difficult: cyclonic weather, very high swells, low visibility.

“The vessel is constructed of wood which means it is nigh on impossible to detect.”

Three injured asylum seekers are being transported on commercial flights to Perth this evening for treatment.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service brought two injured women to Perth earlier today.

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