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Indonesian drifts to Australia on wood

31 January 2013, 14:30

Sydney - An Indonesian crewman who abandoned a stalled people-smuggling ship has washed up on a remote Australian island after days clinging to a piece of driftwood following the breakup of his makeshift raft.

The sunburnt, dehydrated man was found on Tuesday on Christmas Island's Lily Beach, five days after he and three Myanmar men jumped ship when their boat broke down between Australia and Indonesia.

There has been no sign of the Myanmar men.

"The four men reportedly left a disabled vessel on 24 January 2013 on a raft made of inner tubes and bamboo bound with rope," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on Thursday.

According to the crewman, their raft broke up in poor weather on their first night at sea and he became separated from the three asylum-seekers, only managing to survive by clinging to a piece of driftwood.

"Using it for flotation, [he] continued to swim/drift towards Christmas Island, coming ashore about two days later," AMSA said.

Released from hospital

"The survivor claimed he had been lost on Christmas Island until his discovery."

Authorities were first alerted to the men's plight last Friday, when the navy found their original vessel adrift about 20 nautical miles from Christmas Island. The 16 Myanmar asylum-seekers on board revealed the raft tale.

The immigration department said the crewman was taken to the hospital on the island, about 1 540km from the Australian mainland and 360km south of Jakarta, and later released into immigration detention.

"He's moved from the hospital, he's obviously been cleared by the hospital so he's fine," an immigration spokesperson said.

Police and the navy combed the island foreshore at all points where the other three men may have washed up without success and AMSA said it had now halted its search.

"Following confirmation by the survivor that the men were no longer on the raft, AMSA suspended the air and sea search, noting medical advice that the persons could not have survived at sea without support from the raft," it said.

According to media reports, the search, using six aircraft, two navy ships and two merchant vessels, spotted the raft's inner tubes on Monday but there was no sign of the Myanmar men.

Australia is facing a steady influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat - a record 17 202 in 2012 - the majority of whom pay people-smugglers for passage from Indonesia on leaky wooden vessels. Sinkings are not uncommon.



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