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Surfer stumbles across asylum boat
Asylum seekers hold a sign to attract attention near Indonesia's Mentawai Island. Picture: Tim Everingham

An Australian surfer has told of his unexpected encounter with an ill-equipped boatload of asylum seekers on their way to Christmas Island yesterday.

Tim Everingham was on a boat near Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands when he spotted the rusty boat carrying about 50 asylum seekers about 7am.

“At first we thought it was just a fishing boat but when we got closer we realised they were holding up signs saying ‘Help, we are Sri Lankan refugees’,” said Mr Everingham, who works for Indies Trader Marine Adventures.

“They had been floating at sea for ten days because they had no fuel.”

Mr Everingham and his crew gave the stricken asylum seekers soda water, water, rice and vegetables and did heed their requests for fuel because there was a storm coming.

“That would have put them in more trouble because there was a storm brewing off the coast of WA and it was heading towards us.”

It was not the boat which was later reported sunk off the coast of Indonesia in the Sunda Strait.

Mr Everingham said he alerted Indonesia’s search and rescue operation BASARNAS, which is travelling to the site to help the asylum seekers.

Mr Everingham, who is from Newcastle, said he felt sorry for the people on board the boat, which included women, children and a disabled person.

“We were just talking about boat people and when we actually saw one it hit home. It was heavy,” he said.

Asylum seekers hold a sign to attract attention near Indonesia's Mentawai Island. Picture: Tim Everingham