Indonesia rescues Sri Lankans at sea

Indonesia police say they have picked up 43 starving, dehydrated people who were adrift in a boat for nine days after their engine broke down while fleeing Sri Lanka in hopes of reaching Australia.

Police captain Abdurachman Suryanegara, in the Western Indonesian town of Sikakap, said fishermen discovered the stricken boat off Mentawai island off Sumatra and towed it ashore.

He said the passengers included four women and three children. Their engine broke down nine days earlier, and they had run out of food and water.

They told investigators they were fleeing violence in Sri Lanka and hoping to seek asylum in Australia.

Indonesia has become a major transit point for people fleeing war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, an asylum seeker has told how he begged for his sister to stay with him as they drifted in each others arms for days in the Sunda Strait.

But tired and injured, Muhammed Zahir’s sister couldn’t hold on any longer, slipping away and beneath the waves before the rescue boats arrived.

“She told me, ‘kill yourself, let’s go together’,” he said.

“I said, ‘please don’t go’, but she’s gone.”

As tears streamed down his face, Zahir told of the nightmare he has endured since the boat they were on with 150 others sank on the way to Australia.

Like the rest of those aboard the rickety wooden vessel, Zahir is an ethnic Hazara. They were fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.

Zahir, 25, was one of the 54 survivors brought to Merak in western Java today. His sister, who was 29, remains one of the almost 100 others missing, feared drowned.

The survivors were brought to shore in two Indonesian search and rescue boats after earlier being transferred from the larger vessels. (Herald Sun)