Australians find bodies of suspected migrants, search for survivors

PERTH (Reuters) - The Australian authorities found on Saturday the bodies of nine suspected asylum seekers near a partly submerged vessel, and were searching for any survivors from the latest accident involving people trying to reach the country.

Overcrowded boats carrying people aiming to get to Australia often set sail from Indonesia or Sri Lanka, heading for Australia's Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island, off the north-west coast.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority spotted the submerged hull late on Friday and it was coordinating the search-and-rescue effort, the Customs and Border Protection Service said in a statement.

Rescue aircraft and vessels spotted the nine bodies about 120 km north-west of Christmas Island. It was not known how many people had been on board the boat.

Although Australia gets a small number of the world's asylum seekers each year, the issue is a controversial one with the public.

Opinion polls put the opposition conservatives on track to easily win the Sept 14 General Election, boosted in part by a promise to step up border security.

Since 2001, almost 1,000 people are believed to have died in accidents at sea while attempting to reach Australia.