Last Updated: 2:52 PM, June 21, 2012
Posted: 9:26 AM, June 21, 2012
CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Australia -- A Sri Lankan refugee boat with 200 people believed to be on board capsized off Australia's remote Christmas Island Thursday and authorities said later only 110 had been saved.
Late Thursday, Australia's Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said 110 people had been rescued after the mid-afternoon accident in Indonesian waters, according to ABC television.
It is the latest in a series of refugee boat disasters in the Indian Ocean in recent years, as rickety, overloaded vessels packed with desperate migrants sink on their way to Australia.
The ship issued a distress call and capsized 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island, some 1,600 miles from the Australian mainland, AMSA said, and 200 people were thought to be on board.
Western Australia police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said a "large number" were feared to have perished.
"Some of the very early reports suggest that up to 75 people may have drowned, but I do stress that they are unconfirmed at this stage," O'Callaghan told reporters.
"We are very concerned for a large number of people who may have drowned," he added. "We know from what we've been hearing from the aircraft that there's not 200 life jackets on board."
AMSA said the cargo ship WSA Dragon and Australian military vessel HMAS Wollongong were on the scene to recover survivors from the water, while a defense aircraft dropped life-rafts which could hold 60 people.
"We can also confirm that survivors are wearing life jackets," an AMSA spokeswoman said.
All aircraft and the two Australian military ships had night search capabilities and operations would continue through the hours of darkness, she added, with another two merchant ships and two Indonesian navy boats en route.
Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman for Indonesia's search and rescue service which is co-ordinating the operation, said the boat was an asylum-seeker vessel "coming from Sri Lanka and going to Christmas Island".
Though they come in relatively small numbers by global standards, asylum-seekers are a sensitive political issue in Australia, dominating 2010 elections due to a record 6,555 arrivals.