JAKARTA - Strong waves prevented Indonesian rescuers from continuing the search for survivors Saturday morning in a boat sinking that left at least 22 Australia-bound asylum-seekers, mostly children, dead and scores missing.
Some 120 asylum-seekers from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen were believed to be on the boat that broke into pieces and sank off Indonesia on Friday in rough seas, with 28 plucked to safety and around 70 still unaccounted for, police said.
"The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They're four to six metres (13 to 20 feet). We hope conditions improve soon," Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java, told AFP, adding no helicopter had been deployed.
The sinking was the first deadly asylum boat accident since Tony Abbott became Australia's prime minister earlier this month and days ahead of his first state visit to Indonesia, where his tough boatpeople deterrence policies are likely to be the focus of talks.
The 22 bodies were found floating in an estuary, swept ashore by large waves, and were mostly children who could not swim, Warsono said.
One Lebanese man escaped from the sinking boat by swimming to an island - but he believes his eight children and pregnant wife were killed, an official in Lebanon said.
Hussein Khodr called people in his home village of Kabiit "and told them that the boat sank at dawn, when waves destabilised the vessel", said Ahmad Darwish, local government head in the northern Lebanese village.
Survivors said they were trying to get to Australia's Christmas Island, closer to Java than mainland Australia, and are the latest to cross the treacherous stretch of water that has claimed hundreds of asylum-seekers' lives in recent years.
Abbott vowed to "stop the boats" during his election campaign as the country seeks to combat an influx of asylum-seekers by sea, a highly divisive political issue in Australia.
He plans a two-day visit on Monday to Indonesia, where senior officials have been rankled by his boatpeople policies, which include towing boats back from Australia's waters to Indonesia's.