Scott Morrison. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has for the second time in two days forcefully rejected suggestions Australia did not respond quickly enough to an asylum-seeker boat that sank off Java on Friday morning, killing at least 24 people.
Breaking his self-imposed media blackout on asylum-seeker operations for the second consecutive day, the minister issued a statement on Sunday saying Australian rescue and border protection agencies "respond to all such events with great professionalism and a keenly felt sense of duty, as they did on this occasion".
Only 28 of the boat's 81 passengers have been found alive, suggesting that more than 50 are dead or missing. Indonesian authorities say they have little hope of finding more.
One survivor, Abdullah, from Jordan, said: ''I called the Australian embassy. For 24 hours we were calling them. They told us 'just send us the position on GPS, where are you?' We did, and they told us: 'OK, we know … where you are.' And they said: 'We'll come for you in two hours'.
"We wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them: 'We don't have food, we don't have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us.' And nobody come."
Mr Morrison's second statement said the government "completely rejects allegations of a 26-hour delay". "Suggestions Australian authorities did not respond to this incident appropriately are absolutely and totally wrong," the minister's statement says.
His earlier statement on Saturday said Australian authorities received a phone call about the vessel on Friday morning. Initial reports placed it inside the Indonesian search and rescue region.
Australia's Maritime Safety Rescue Coordination Centre issued an all-ships broadcast. A merchant ship responded but was unable to locate the vessel. A Border Protection Command aircraft was also unable to locate it.
Mr Morrison is due to give the second of the weekly briefings he has promised about asylum-seeker operations on Monday. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Network Ten: "Tragically, I mean, the events occurred in an area that was under Indonesian jurisdiction." "As long as the boats keep coming, people sadly will continue to lose their lives."
Greens leader Christine Milne called for an inquiry into Australia's response.
She said the Greens would use the Senate to demand a return to the regular release of information rather than weekly briefings.
With Michael Bachelard