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Unused lifejackets in asylum boat wreckage
Unused lifejackets in asylum boat wreckage

Unused lifejackets have been found in the hull of the asylum seeker boat that sank last week, killing around 90 people, including at least five children who were fleeing the Taliban stronghold of north-west Pakistan in a bid to get to Australia.

Authorities said yesterday that 17 bodies had been recovered before rescue efforts were called off last night.

It came as another asylum seeker boat was intercepted south-west of Christmas Island last night. The 60 passengers, including one woman and one infant, were transferred to the island's detention centre.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott signalled he would not compromise on finding a solution to the asylum seeker problem ahead of Federal Parliament preparing to shutdown for its winter break, despite warnings that more people would die making the journey across the ocean to Australia.

It is believed that several of those still missing from the sunken asylum seeker boat are teenagers, including five boys who left Parachinar, on the Pakistan-Afghan border, three months ago to travel to Indonesia on their way to Australia.

One of the boys' uncles, Mohammad Ashiq, told a Pakistani newspaper that he believed his nephew was on the boat but had not heard from him.

Four other boys who came from the same region are also unaccounted for.

Other survivors have phoned family members in Pakistan and described how they clung to the hull of the capsized vessel, believing they would die, while passengers around them were overcome by rough seas.

It is understood that many of the 200 people who were on the overcrowded boat originated in Pakistan's Kurrum Agency, one of seven agencies in the country's troubled tribal belt that borders eastern Afghanistan and is home to tens of thousands of displaced refugees.

The region has been the site of ongoing sectarian violence and Taliban attacks.

More than 1500 Turi Bangash tribesmen have been murdered and more than 5000 injured in the past four years.

In a phone call to his family in Parachinar, one of the survivors, 27-year-old Mohammad Nabi, said he was receiving treatment at Christmas Island's small hospital.

His told his brother Ayatullah that the ship had sunk at sea and he had stayed afloat by holding on to wreckage.

Two more survivors, Sadiq Ali and Mehtab Hussain, also called their families from the island's hospital to let them know they were safe.

Mr Ali, who comes from Shublan village in Kurram Agency, reportedly told his family that he was healthy, while two other residents of Parachinar were unconscious.

The unconscious men are among four seriously injured survivors who have been airlifted to Perth for treatment.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority called off the search for survivors late last night but navy ships HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong remained in the area, bringing eight more bodies to shore yesterday morning.

Wreckage was also recovered from the boat, including the lifejackets, which will form part of the coronial inquiry.

The wreckage was taken to the island's police station, where a makeshift morgue has been set up.

Anecdotal reports from families of those aboard the asylum boat suggested that teenagers made up a big part of the all-male passenger list.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship would not confirm the age range of the survivors but regional manager Joe Feld said nine of the 110 survivors were unaccompanied minors - aged between 16 and 17 - and two of them were among the four people transferred to Perth.

WA Police began interviewing the survivors at the Christmas Island detention centre yesterday. Two Indonesians, believed to be crew members, have yet to be interviewed by police.

Australian Federal Police Supt Darren Boyd-Skinner said two crew were the focus of a criminal investigation into what happened. <div class="endnote">

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