The bodies of 13 refugees were recovered and about 40 people were missing after an Indonesian fishing boat sank in the Indian Ocean near Australia’s Christmas Island territory, officials said on Sunday.

Around 55 passengers were estimated to be aboard the boat that went down 120 kilometres north-west of Christmas Island, the destination for the mostly Middle Eastern refugees hoping to make new lives in Australia.

A patrol plane spotted the boat on Wednesday and made an estimation of the number on board. At the time, the wooden vessel was stationary and not apparently in difficulties. No distress call was received.

Three aircraft were searching for survivors on Sunday, Customs and Border Protection said.

“This is another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder how dangerous these journeys are,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.

He said a distress call had been received from a different boat near Christmas Island on Saturday and a search was on to find it.

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