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Australia: Refugees misled on boat safety

May 18, 2011 at 9:55 AM

PERTH, Australia, May 18 (UPI) -- Refugees on a boat that crashed off an Australian island were misled into thinking it was in good shape, a lawyer told an inquest Wednesday.

In fact, the Indonesian boat's engines stopped twice during the trip, there were not enough life jackets aboard and the crew provided no safety instructions, government counsel Malcolm McCusker said in Perth Magistrate's Court in Western Australia.

Thirty asylum-seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran, were confirmed dead and another 20 are missing in the Dec. 15 accident on the rocks off Christmas Island, an Australian territory 1,600 miles northwest of Perth but only 220 miles south of Jakarta in the Indian Ocean.

More than 1,700 asylum-seekers are being held at Australia's offshore processing center there.

Two of the three Indonesian crewmen who survived the sinking told Australian police the captain assured them the engine of the wooden fishing boat was in good condition, but he left the voyage in midstream, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

McCusker said the inquest would examine what monitoring, if any, was done of the boat, the adequacy of the rescue operation and how long authorities had known that boats could get to Christmas Island undetected.

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