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Asylum seekers die as boat sinks off Australia

Twenty-seven asylum seekers have died and dozens may be missing after heavy waves smashed their timber boat onto rocks on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean off Australia on Wednesday, sinking the boat and throwing people into stormy seas.

world Updated: Dec 15, 2010 23:44 IST

Twenty-seven asylum seekers have died and dozens may be missing after heavy waves smashed their timber boat onto rocks on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean off Australia on Wednesday, sinking the boat and throwing people into stormy seas.

Television footage showed the boat rammed bow first onto the rocks, splintering and sinking, and its passengers, including women and children, thrown by waves against razor-sharp rocks.

"There are people in the water crying out for help. There's a tragedy unfolding here," Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson told Australian media.

Australian Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said 27 bodies had been recovered and 41 rescued, but warned the toll could rise.

"We don't know how many people were on the boat," Swan told Australia's ABC television.

Australia's Flying Doctors service said the death toll could be around 50 with "about 33 walking wounded". "We threw ropes over the cliffs and we must have thrown in a couple of hundred life jackets. About 15 or 20 people managed to get into the jackets but there are bodies all over the water," one Christmas Island resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the West Australian newspaper.