Lebanese asylum-seeker recalls horror of Indonesia boat deaths

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A Lebanese asylum-seeker described Saturday how she lost two children and her husband when their Australia-bound boat sank off Indonesia, leaving at least 22 dead and scores missing.

Nazime Bakour, 32, groaned in pain when asked how she felt about her loss, fighting back tears as her eight-year-old son, the only other survivor in her family, slept beside her in a medical centre in the south of Indonesia's main Java island.

"I happy he is alive. My husband and two (other) children dead. They three and seven (years old)," Bakour, wearing an Islamic headscarf and a long green robe, told AFP in broken English.

"I have to swim. My husband swim very well, but the boat break and hit his head," she said, recalling the boat being struck by a massive wave and breaking into pieces.

She saw her surviving son in the water and managed to grab him before they were rescued by fishermen.

Friday's tragedy was the first deadly asylum boat accident since Tony Abbott became Australia's prime minister earlier this month.

It came just days ahead of his first state visit to Indonesia, where his tough boatpeople deterrence policies are likely to be the focus of talks.

Twenty-eight people have been plucked to safety but around 70 -- including many children -- are still unaccounted for after the boat carrying people from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen went down off Java, police said.

One Lebanese man escaped from the sinking boat by swimming to an island -- but he believes his eight children and pregnant wife were killed, an official in Lebanon said.

The estimated 120 asylum-seekers on board were at sea for five days, Bakour said, before their food and water supplies ran out.

It was only then the two Indonesian crew admitted they were lost and decided to turn back to Java, from where they had departed.

Bakour said she was from northern Lebanon and had feared "Syria will attack us", noting there had been two mosque bombings in August that left 45 dead.

"We leave Lebanon because not safe for my children," she said.

Indonesian rescuers resumed the search for survivors Saturday with a sole helicopter as strong waves meant it was dangerous to send out boats.

"The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They're four to six metres (13 to 20 feet)," said Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

A total of 22 asylum-seekers were so far confirmed dead and 28 had been rescued alive, officials said.

"It's only been one day, so we are still hopeful we can find more survivors. But until now, the helicopter has not sighted anyone at sea," said West Java province search and rescue chief, Rochmali, who goes by one name.

"We will stop the search at sunset and resume Sunday morning," he added.

He said 14 of the 22 bodies that had swept ashore were adults, contrary to earlier reports that the majority of the dead were children.

Survivors said they were trying to get to Australia's Christmas Island, closer to Java than mainland Australia, and are the latest to try to cross the treacherous stretch of water that has claimed hundreds of asylum-seekers' lives in recent years.

Abbott vowed to "stop the boats" during his election campaign as the country seeks to combat an influx of asylum-seekers by sea, a highly divisive political issue in Australia.

He will start a two-day visit to Indonesia on Monday, where senior officials have been rankled by his boatpeople policies known as Operation Sovereign Borders, which include towing vessels back from Australia's waters to Indonesia's.

An Australian cabinet minister said Saturday the latest tragedy highlighted the need to stop vessels trying to reach Australia.

"Now we do have Operation Sovereign Borders under way, we are working very constructively with the Indonesian government and it's very important our efforts with the Indonesian government are going to be successful," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News.

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