RESCUERS have found three more bodies from a capsized asylum seeker boat, bringing the death toll to six.
But 90 passengers from the overcrowded boat are still unaccounted for.
One hundred and nine people have been rescued since the crowded vessel capsized on Thursday afternoon about halfway between the Indonesian island of Java and Christmas Island.
Four have been transferred to Perth for medical treatment while the rest are in a detention facility on Christmas Island.
A spokesman for the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority said a decision on whether to suspend the search would be made when darkness fell at the disaster site, about 7pm EST.
The spokesman said the “window was rapidly closing” on finding survivors. No survivors have been recovered since 10.30pm EST on Thursday.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese outlined the latest developments in Sydney this afternoon as Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott said the Coalition would not be budging on new legislation.
Mr Albanese said poor weather was hampering the search as he also pushed for a speedy resolution on asylum-seeker policy.
“I think certainly I am of the view, and the Government is of the view, that we want to work together across the Parliament to secure an outcome that reduces the possibility of a tragedy like this being repeated.”
Labor’s plan to process asylum seekers arriving by boat in Malaysia was stalled last year, because it did not get the Opposition’s approval, which it needed to make the plan lawful.
Liberal backbencher Mal Washer and Independent Tony Windsor have both called for a compromise on refugee policy.
Mr Abbott said today he had not been approached by the Government for talks to break the deadlock, but even if they did, the Coalition would be sticking to the Howard Government’s Nauru policy.
“It doesn’t really matter whether Julia Gillard and I talk about this, what matters is that the Government put the right policies in place,” he said in Sydney.
“I’m all in favour of talking but in the end… what matters here is the right policies, not talking endlessly about what they might be,” he said.
Mr Abbott said he would not be criticising the Government while the tragedy is still unfolding.
“I am doing my best to avoid (politicising the issue), not a word of criticism will escape my lips today,” Mr Abbott said.
“We should be grieving for those who are lost,” he said.
Two crew members among the survivors were transferred to Christmas Island from the scene of the tragedy via a Navy vessel, along with surviving passengers. The crew are currently being held at the same detention facility on Christmas Island as the surviving asylum seekers, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said.
Some of the survivors were plucked from the sea by commercial seaman on merchant vessels and Customs and Border Protection said today that these survivors were extremely grateful to their rescuers.
Customs and Border Protection District Manager Michael Farrelly, who is based on Christmas Island, said some of the survivors shook the hands of their rescuers on the merchant vessels and thanked them. “They were very thankful to the crew getting them off,” he said.
Christmas Island acting administrator Steve Clay said yesterday the island had been well prepared to deal with the tragedy and many volunteers had helped with the emergency response.
He said the disaster had revived memories in the community of the SIEV 221 boat crash in 2010 and authorities were offering counselling to locals if needed.
“We recognise this is a sensitive time for people on the island,” he said. “This is a very supportive community and they’re quite resilient people and they will do their best to help out.”