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Indonesia increases maritime patrols
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (UPI) Jan 24, 2013

21 dead as tourist boat capsizes off India's Andaman and Nicobar islands
New Delhi (AFP) Jan 26, 2014 - A tourist boat capsized off India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands on Sunday, leaving 21 people dead as rescuers continued to search in the dark for those feared still missing, officials said.

The private boat carrying around 43 tourists, thought to be mostly Indians, plus crew sank quickly after taking on water between Ross Island and North Bay near the island's capital Port Blair, a senior official said.

Anand Prakash, Chief Secretary of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told AFP that 21 people were killed in the tragedy.

"By all reports, it (the boat) sank quite quickly and didn't give passengers much of a chance to get out of there," he said by phone from the control room of the rescue operation.

"Whether the boat broke open and water poured in, we don't know," said Prakash, adding that an investigation was under way into the cause of the accident. "But the boat was bad."

Another 20 people have been pulled alive from the water following the accident late Sunday afternoon, Prakash said.

Search efforts that include the coast guard, navy and police were ongoing, aided by a helicopter with a spotlight for "two to three" people still feared to be missing, he added.

The Aqua Marine ferrying the passengers between the two popular spots capsized in Port Blair harbour, located in the Andamans, about one kilometre from shore during calm seas, Prakash said.

"Some people could see the boat starting to sink from shore so quite a few boats took off from the harbour to try to help," he said.

Earlier Indian media had reported the accident took place some 25 kilometres (15 miles) off the coast of Port Blair.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed shock over the tragedy and "condoled the loss of lives." Singh also said in a statement that he has asked the country's national agencies to help in the rescue and relief operation.

Those rescued have been taken to a hospital in Port Blair, with "several of them seriously injured", an official said.

"The bodies have also been taken to the same hospital," the unnamed official told AFP by phone from the town.

The boat was carrying a large group of tourists from Kanchipuram in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, the official said, while local media reported that some were from the country's financial hub Mumbai.

However authorities were canvassing hotels in Port Blair to confirm the names of all of the tourists who were on board the boat, the official added.

An investigation by the judicial district magistrate was under way into the cause of the accident, the official said.

A list of the dead and injured was expected to be released soon, and helpline numbers have been set up for those concerned about missing relatives and friends.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands, comprising some 572 islands, are located between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

Though they are Indian territory, they are at least 1,000 kilometres from the mainland and are closer to the coast of Myanmar.

The sprawling archipelago, badly hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami, is home to rare indigenous tribes and attracts tourists drawn to its unspoilt beauty.

Indonesia increased its offshore maritime patrols following an incursion by an Australian patrol vessel chasing asylum boats.

Chief navy spokesman Commodore Untung Surapati said Indonesia has beefed up patrols by sending more frigates, fast torpedo craft, corvettes and maritime patrol aircraft to it southern waters.

"All the ships are on the move, patrolling and not merely stationed at a naval base," he told The Jakarta Post.

"We have yet to detect any border violations by the Australians since Friday."

Surapati said he acted on orders from the government's Security Ministry, which criticized Australia for its maritime encroachment and warned Australia to respect its territorial sovereignty, Indonesian news agency Antara reported.

"The Indonesian government has firmly emphasized that territorial violation under any circumstances is a serious threat to relations between the two countries," the ministry's deputy communication director Rear Marshal Agus Barnas said.

"The Indonesian government has a legitimate right to protect and defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity based on international laws and the U.N. charter," he said.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott went out of his way to issue an "unqualified" apology last week for the incident in an effort to diffuse the latest rift in relations between two countries as they struggle to stop people traffickers.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison also issued an apology.

"We sincerely regret the incident," Morrison said.

"[We offer] an apology without reserve on behalf of the Australian government because we have not deliberately entered the Indonesian territorial waters."

But Abbott -- who was elected late last year partly on a get-tough asylum policy -- insisted Australia will chase and turn back asylum vessels, the Australian newspaper reported Wednesday.

"Stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty," Abbott said.

"[Indonesian] President Yudhoyono, of all people, ought to understand -- does understand -- just how seriously countries take their sovereignty."

Australia's relations with Indonesia began heading south in late November after Jakarta suspended military and intelligence cooperation, including joint anti-people smuggling activities, over Australia's alleged spying activities.

Indonesia recalled its envoy after leaked documents indicated Australia tried to spy on senior government politicians, including tapping the cellphones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and members of his inner circle.

Abbott, immediately upon taking office, set up Operation Sovereign Borders -- an amalgamation of Australia's 12 agencies involved in border protection under the command of a single three-star military commander.

Apart from the issue of over-burdened refugee camps in Australia, and in camps set up in neighboring Nauru and Papua New Guinea, there is increasing concern about the number of deaths from the sinking of the overloaded often unseaworthy vessels.

An investigative report in the Sydney Morning Herald in October found 1,500 asylum seekers have died trying to reach Australia since 1989.

Australia's treatment of asylum seekers also is increasingly being criticized at home and abroad.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. obtained video footage of asylum-seekers receiving medical treatment in Indonesia for burns they allege were inflicted when the Australian navy towed their boat back to Rote Island within Indonesian waters.

The video shows Indonesian doctors assessing the burns.

Indonesian police reportedly sought medical treatment for seven people with burns on their hands after the navy allegedly forced them to hold on to hot pipes from the boat's engine, ABC reported.

Morrison rejected the asylum seekers' claims, saying it was an attempt to discredit Australia's border protection operations, the Australian reported.

"The government rejects any allegation of inappropriate behavior by our navy or customs and border protection personnel in the conduct of their duties," he said.

Australia's human rights watchdog announced an inquiry into treatment of the estimated 1,000 children that have accompanied asylum-seekers.

"We're not getting the level of information [from the government] we used to get," Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs said.


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