An infant died and eight other passengers are believed drowned after an Indonesian fishing boat taking refugees to Australia capsized in the Indian Ocean, officials said on Saturday.
The boat foundered late on Friday around 200 kilometres from Christmas Island, the usual destination for boats put to sea by people-smugglers in Indonesia.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said 88 survivors from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka had been picked up by an Australian naval vessel and taken to Christmas Island.
Since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd first took office in 2007, more than 45,000 mostly Middle Eastern asylum-seekers have made the passage and more than 1,000 had died trying.
“Right across our region there are events occurring which affect the flow of people and the actions of people smugglers, and this is one part of that, and it’s a tragic part of it,” Mr. Rudd said.
Since Mr. Rudd won back the premiership from Julia Gillard two weeks ago, boats have been arriving at the rate of one a day.
People-smuggling in Indonesia is illegal, but the authorities are often complicit in it.
“When it comes to people-smuggling, Jakarta insists that any boat that leaves its shores are Australia’s problem,” Sydney University law professor John Lee wrote in The Australian newspaper.