Hopes of a new and better life for 80 Iranian and Iraqi refugees were suddenly squashed when the frail wooden boat they were riding in broke and failed to withstand the bad weather, killing at least 27 people who got pounded against the rocks in Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.
The screams of men, women and children woke up the islanders at Flying Fishing Cove as the boat and the people onboard were violently hurled into the jagged coastline by waves as large as 15 feet. Witnesses said the screams were so loud they could be heard above the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks.
The over 50 lifejackets thrown by witnesses failed to save most of the refugees as they were swept away by the waters.‘It is heart-stopping,’ said one resident who saw people struggling in the wild sea. ‘It’s carnage, a terrible tragedy.‘The sea is awash. None of us can get out to rescue them from the shore. It took a customs boat ages to get to them.’
Councilor Kamar Ismail of Christmas Island said the asylum seekers appeared to be mostly from the Middle East. This was confirmed by a doctor who said the survivors were of Iranian and Iraqi nationality.Mr Ismail told of the carnage, saying: ‘It was horrific, mate. I saw a person dying in front of me and there was nothing we could do to save them.
‘Babies, children maybe three or four years old, they were hanging on to bits of timber, they were screaming ‘help, help, help’, we were throwing life jackets out to them but many of them couldn’t swim a few metres to reach them.‘The waves just kept on coming and smashed everything. When the navy boat came in, we just hugged each other. Just to see kids like that, I don’t know what to say.’
Christmas Island resident Michael Foster, who joined in the rescue effort, said: ‘By the time I got down there and saw what was going on, there was debris and people everywhere with life jackets on and so forth but a lot of screaming the carrying on.
‘With the horrendous seas as they are, the only thing that people could do from the mainland was really throw life jackets back into the water or just advise them to swim away from the rocks.’Wayne Swan, Australia’s acting Prime Minister, said that while a number of people had been rescued ‘sadly some bodies have been retrieved. It’s a very difficult situation.’
Island resident Simon Foster told the West Australian newspaper that the boat was upside down, scattering debris across the Indian Ocean’s surface.‘It seems the boat crashed into jagged rocks below the cliffs as it tried to land at Flying Fish Cove.’
Foster said the weather was wild and the seas the roughest in many months as the boat attempted to land at Flying Fish Cove which is the island’s only landing point for vessels.‘There is so much stuff in the water that you can’t tell what is debris and what is people.
‘I have heard that a navy boat was cruising around picking people out of water but it it’s hard to tell what’s going on.‘I definitely would not want to be out in that water at the moment whether you were in the water or in a boat – it’s shocking out there’
By Scott Basit, UK News Online