The federal government has expressed its sympathies to the victims of an asylum seeker boat sinking off Indonesia and says it will provide assistance to authorities there.
Indonesian authorities say that at least 21 people, including seven children, drowned when a boat carrying about 80 passengers sank in rough seas on Friday off the coast of Java. There are fears up 59 people have died in the tragedy.
In the federal government’s first detailed statement on the boat sinking, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said details of the sinking were unclear.
He said Australian authorities received a call about the vessel on Friday morning that placed the stricken boat about 25 nautical miles off Indonesia.
Mr Morrison said Rescue Coordination Centre Australia maintained co-ordination of the search and notified the Indonesian rescue agency.An all ships broadcast was issued by Australian authorities, but a merchant ship was unable to find the vessel.
A border protection aircraft was also unable to find the vessel.
‘‘Details of what has occurred are unclear at this time but it is understood Indonesian authorities are coordinating rescue operations,’’ he said.
‘‘Australian government officials in Jakarta are seeking additional information from their Indonesian counterparts, including seeking to confirm where the vessel foundered. It is believed to have gone down in Indonesian territory.’’
Mr Morrison said the sinking reflected the dangers of people smuggling.
‘‘The Australian government expresses its deepest sympathies to those affected by this tragedy for their loss and will continue to provide any assistance required by the Indonesian government,’’ he said.
Mr Morrison’s statement comes after Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to answer questions about the boat sinking this morning.
Labor called for a full briefing into the incidents, and what role the the Royal Australian Navy may have played in two rescues.
Interim Labor leader Chris Bowen said the government had promised to give briefings if there was a tragedy or a significant event at sea.
‘‘This can’t wait for Mr Morrison’s weekly briefing,’’ Mr Bowen told reporters in Melbourne.
‘‘These updates should be provided as and when the government can.’’
Mr Abbott is to meet with Indonesian President Yudhoyno on Monday, with asylum-seeker policy expected to be at the top of the agenda.