Fears grow for missing Lankan boat

A major air and sea search is under way in Australia for a boatload of up to 30 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers missing for seven days, the Australian newspaper website reported today.
The Australian has been told “serious concerns” are held for the boat, which was first spotted west of the Cocos and Keeling Islands last Wednesday.
Last night, a Customs P3 Orion and a Dornier aircraft supplied by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority were scanning the seas 250 nautical miles north of Cocos Island in search of the missing vessel. AMSA has also put out an alert asking merchant vessels in the area to assist in the search.
Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Australia Thisara Samarasinghe, a former navy chief, said the Sri Lankan and Australian governments had succeeded in substantially reducing the number of asylum-seekers boarding boats to Australia.
Samarasinghe said between January 1 and the end of last month, the Sri Lankan navy had intercepted and returned 28 boats carrying about 480 Sri Lankans, including 80 women and more than 100 children.
The number of Sri Lankans to travel to Australia by boat so far this year has dropped to 1644, down substantially from the 6428 Sri Lankan arrivals last year. (Colombo Gazette)