The number of asylum seekers who died in a boat tragedy along an Australian island is estimated to touch 48, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today, but indicated that some bodies may never be recovered.

Around 90 people were on board SIEV 221 when it crashed into the rocky cliffs of the Christmas Island last week, with the total number of survivors at 42.

Thirty bodies have been recovered so far.

Ms. Gillard put the best estimate of the number of dead at 48 though she said that it may not be possible to ascertain exactly how many lives were lost.

The Prime Minister said the government had no plans to lift Australia’s humanitarian intake in order to reduce the numbers resorting to people smugglers.

“Obviously the government takes decisions about immigration numbers in all classes from time to time, but we have got no plans to do that,” she said.

“The people—smuggling business model will be there for however long people think to themselves if they pay a people smuggler and risk their life at sea, that they will be processed and dealt with in a different way than if they stay where they are,” she said.

Ms. Gillard said the regional protection framework and proposed regional processing centre was about smashing that business model.

“It’s about saying to people, you get on the boat, particularly a people smuggler’s, risk your life at sea, even when you reach Australia, what will happen is you are returned to the regional processing centre,” she said.

“So you do not get an advantage by having paid a people smuggler. That is our aim,” she said.

Ms. Gillard said it was possible that some bodies of those killed in the tragedy may never be recovered.

“We are, of course, talking about very rough seas, very rocky and difficult coastline and so it may be that there are bodies of people who travelled on the boat that are never recovered,” she said.

“That is obviously very, very grim news“.

She urged Australians to reflect on the loss, but also to pay homage to all those involved, including those who worked on the incident, from eyewitnesses to navy and customs personnel.

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