Jakarta: Rescuers battled strong currents and high waves on Saturday while searching for dozens of people missing and feared dead one day after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off the coast of Indonesia`s main island of Java, killing at least 21 people.
The boat capsized and sank in waters off West Java`s Sukabumi district after being hit by high waves yesterday.
Survivors said about 100 people were aboard the vessel.
Twenty-eight people were rescued and taken to the Sukabumi immigration office for identification, Brig. Gen. Tatang Zainudin, the National Search and Rescue Agency`s operation chief, said by phone from the scene.
Among those rescued were three Lebanese nationals who were found early today after being stranded on an island about 20 km from where the boat sank, Zainudin said.
He said 21 bodies were pulled from the water last afternoon, including seven children.
A helicopter and more than a dozen boats were being used today to search for about 35 people believed to be missing, but strong currents and high waves were hampering the operation, Zainudin said.
"We fear those who are still missing were unable to survive," he said.
There were conflicting reports about the exact number of people on the boat due to the lack of a manifest, but some survivors told officials that about 100 asylum seekers from Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq were believed to be aboard, said a local police chief, Lt Col Deddy Kusuma Bakti.
Survivors said the boat was headed for Australia`s Christmas Island.
Lebanon`s official National News Agency said 17 Lebanese drowned in the incident. Nine members of a single family were among the Lebanese victims, with a woman and her eight children dying and her husband surviving, the agency reported.
The boat capsized and sank after being hit by up to 6-meter waves hours after leaving Sukabumi last morning, Zainudin said.
The incident came ahead of new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott`s first visit to Indonesia next week. He is expected to meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Indonesia has said that the Australian navy`s plan to intercept and force back Indonesian fishing boats crowded with asylum seekers could breach Indonesian sovereignty.