Updated: Fri, 12 Apr 2013 11:29:26 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Indonesia investigates report of asylum boat sinking

Indonesia's search and rescue agency said Friday it was investigating a report from Australian authorities that an asylum seeker boat carrying scores of people may have sunk.

"We received information there were 72 people on board, and that 14 have been rescued by fishermen" after the vessel sank in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands early Friday, said agency official Tatang Zaenudin.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in a statement it had passed information to the Indonesian authorities that a boat may have gone down in the strait, but it had not been requested to provide assistance.

A seven-strong team was heading by road to the Sukabumi area, in West Java, where those rescued were believed to have been taken, Indonesian officials said.

"I have sent a team... to find these 14 people. If we find them, maybe they can give some information on the whereabouts of the boat," said Zaenudin.

However, he added that boats and helicopters had not yet been dispatched to search as officials were not sure of the precise location in the huge Sunda Strait.

"We will send a helicopter as soon as we know the exact location," he added.

Indonesia is a transit hub for asylum seekers from countries including Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, with many paying people-smugglers for passage to Australia on wooden vessels after fleeing their home countries.

However, hundreds have died making the treacherous journey in recent years.

Last month, two people died, including a young child, and two more seriously hurt after an overloaded Indonesian fishing boat capsized off the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

The same month, a naval vessel plucked 77 asylum seekers to safety after their boat broke up on the way to Australia.

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