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Jakarta searching for hijacked boat

October 28, 2001

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JAKARTA, Oct 27: Navy search efforts for a missing Indonesian boat seized by some 170 illegal Middle Eastern immigrants and forced to sail to Australia were fruitless for a third day on Saturday.

Officials were beginning to fear that the boat might have sunk, said naval commander on Lombok island, Colonel Pramono Hadi. A crew member and a passenger had been rescued, officials said.

The search for the Sinar Bontang has been underway since Thursday after it was seized Wednesday by scores of Middle Eastern immigrants off the resort island of Lombok and forced to sail to Australia.

Three rescue ships scoured the seas until late Saturday for the missing 50-meter long wooden boat, but with no luck, Hadi said.

“As of five o’clock tonight (1000 GMT) my men have not found any clues of the whereabouts of the boat ... we fear that it might have already sunk, but we will keep on searching,” Hadi told AFP.

“If the ship has sailed beyond the Flores Sea, they are facing problems of strong winds and high seas which occur quite often during this time of year,” Hadi said.

The waters below the Flores Sea are known as the Timor Sea, the main route for illegal immigrants to smuggle themselves to the northern part of the Australian continent.

Hadi said one of the navy ships involved in the search had rescued an unidentified crew member who had fled on a safety raft.

An Indonesian passenger had also been rescued, navy spokesman First Admiral Franky Kaihatu said.—AFP