Australia says two die in boat sinking off Indonesia

SYDNEY (AFP) - At least two people died when an asylum-seeker boat sank off the Indonesian island of Java and 30 people were rescued, Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat have died in their attempts to make the sea voyage in recent years, and Mr Morrison said the sinking highlighted the dangers of people-smuggling.

Mr Morrison said the Australian authorities received information from Jakarta that 30 people were rescued from a sunken vessel in Indonesian waters some 75 nautical miles off West Java on Monday.

"There have been reports of three deceased persons. However, this has not yet been confirmed through our (diplomatic) post," Mr Morrison told Parliament. "Our post has advised of two deaths and several persons being in a critical condition."

According to media reports, the wooden fishing boat was hit by big waves which broke up the boat, killing two men - one from Myanmar and another from Bangladesh. The reports said a toddler had also perished in the sinking - the third death alluded to by Mr Morrison.

He said no request was or had been made for Australian assistance, by either passengers onboard the vessel or the Indonesian authorities involved in the rescue.

"This further loss of life is as tragic as all those that preceded it in similar circumstances, and we extend sympathies to the families of those affected," Mr Morrison said. "It is especially tragic as these deaths were needless and avoidable."

While Australia would meet its obligations regarding the safety of life at sea, Mr Morrison said that did not mean there was a "safety net" for voyages undertaken on people-smuggling boats.

"This latest incident highlights once again the fatal consequences of people-smuggling, particularly in this most dangerous time of the year," he said, referring to the annual monsoon season.

Asylum-seeker boat arrivals have dropped dramatically under the new conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which has retained the policy of the former administration of sending all boatpeople to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for permanent resettlement.

But there has been a recent spike, with close to 200 people arriving on four boats in the week up to Dec 6.