Dozens feared dead as refugee boat sinks off Java coast

DOZENS of asylum seekers remain missing, feared dead, as Indonesian authorities search for up to 150 survivors after a boat bound for Australia sank of the Java coast on Wednesday.

The boat reportedly left the west Java coast on Tuesday morning, hitting rough seas and sinking in Indonesian waters not far from the coastline.

APN Newsdesk understands the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was alerted to the incident on Wednesday morning and offered Basarnas, its Indonesian counterpart, help.

However, the AMSA offer went unacknowledged, and AMSA could not respond directly as the emergency occurred within Indonesian waters.

It is understood between 150 and 160 men, women and children were aboard the boat before it sank, with some reports putting the total as high as 175.

Basarnas has confirmed 157 people were rescued, with three confirmed dead and an unknown number so far unaccounted for.

The latest emergency involving asylum-seekers hoping to make it to Australia came as Immigration Minister Tony Burke prepared for a trip to Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island in coming days.

His trip follows the airing of shocking allegations of rape and torture among detainees on Manus Island on ABC TV on Tuesday night.

Only days after Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare labelled the debate over people smuggling "poisoned by politics", both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott hit out at each other's policies.

Mr Rudd said the latest incident had underlined the need for the recent deal he signed with PNG to have all refugees shipped to the impoverished Pacific nation.

But he also hit out at Mr Abbott's claims that the deal was not genuine, muddying the waters for people smugglers who continued to send refugees across the ocean.

Mr Abbott, on Wednesday, reiterated his statements that the only way to stop the boats was to change the government, but he did not outline the detail of what the Coalition's alternative to the PNG deal was.

He again called for the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, and a return to policies instigated under the Howard Government.

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