BRISBANE, Australia — The bodies of nearly 100 Burmese asylum seekers were reportedly thrown off a boat headed to Indonesia or Australia by starving shipmates after the vessel's engine stalled.
According to Australia's ABC News, 32 survivors — 31 adult men and a boy — were rescued from the vessel as it sank about 150 miles off the Sri Lankan coast.
Sri Lankan police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told Reuters that the survivors told police they had carried food and water for only one month, but they had been at sea for two months when their engine stalled.
"Their captain and 97 others have died due to dehydration and starvation. They also said they had thrown the dead bodies into the sea."
The Australian newspaper wrote that the Sri Lankan navy had released shocking photographs of the emaciated survivors.
Australia's Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said the refugees must have died a horrible death as the boat ran out of food while drifting.
According to The Australian, O'Connor said:
"People floating around, people emaciated and 100 people might have perished. It just has to end. It was nowhere near [Australia], I am advised it (the boat) was on its way here. A lot of people are just disappearing, out of sight, out of mind. Boats disappearing. It is very hard to put a number on it. Too many."
The Fairfax media cited police as saying the survivors identified themselves as Muslims from a border village between Burma and Bangladesh who were heading to Indonesia and Australia to seek asylum.
It cited O'Connor as saying the incident underlined the danger of the human trafficking trade — or "people-smuggling" as it is called in Australia.
"It is the people smugglers who have lured people onto unseaworthy vessels. It's the people smugglers who peddle lies to these people, take their life savings, sometimes sadly take their lives. That's where I target the blame."