48 believed dead in Australia refugee boat disaster
SYDNEY: Australia on Monday called off the search for bodies from last week's horrific asylum-seeker shipwreck, as the prime minister said about 48 people had died and warned the exact toll may never be known.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the "best estimate" was that around 90 people were on the wooden fishing boat which shattered on rocks at remote Christmas Island last Wednesday in a storm, as helpless residents looked on.
Only 42 people were rescued before the search for survivors was called off late Friday.
"We may never know the precise number but the advice to me is that the best estimate at present is that there were around 90 people on the boat," Gillard told reporters, quoting police figures.
"That does mean of course that we are still not able to account for around 18 people."
Thirty bodies were retrieved after the accident, including a number of babies and children, before the search was terminated Monday on "advice from experienced police divers that no further bodies would be found," Customs told AFP.
It is the worst disaster involving an asylum-seeker boat bound for Australia since the sinking of the SIEV-X off Indonesia in 2001, when all 353 on board died.
Gillard said it may never be known "absolutely, certainly, how many people were on the boat," with authorities relying on accounts of survivors to try and establish how many people are still missing and their identities.
She said the increased toll "is obviously very very grim news and I am sure that Australians are today continuing to reflect on this tragedy."
Survivors say the vessel was packed with Iranians, Iraqis and Kurds when it foundered on a rocky outcrop at Christmas Island, the site of Australia's main immigration detention centre and some 2,600 kilometres from the mainland.
The grim task of identifying the victims was underway at the hospital morgue Monday.
Police have interviewed three Indonesian crewmen rescued after the crash and expect to lay charges, though they have declined to comment on whether these will include manslaughter. -Ap
BERLIN: A snow covered aircraft is parked on the tarmac at Berlin's Schoenefeld airport in Berlin, Germany. -Ap