Thu June 21, 2012 8:54pm
RESCUERS have picked up 110 survivors from an asylum seeker boat that capsized on its way to Australia from Sri Lanka with up to 200 people on board.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is working with Indonesia's search and rescue authority BASARNAS, said search and rescue operations have continued throughout the night.
Two Australian navy patrol boats, HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong, and a number of aircraft are heading the search.
The 110 survivors have been taken to Christmas Island, which quickly activated its emergency management plan and prepared its hospital and medical staff.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard distressed by asylum boat tragedy
Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Rio de Janeiro, where they are attending a UN environment conference.
"At this stage details are sketchy but what is apparent is there has been a large loss of life at sea," Ms Gillard said. "This is a very distressing and tragic incident."
"Australia is a place with a very long coastline, but unfortunately a coastline that has its dangers. And today our nation has been reminded of those dangers due to the loss of a boat at sea causing loss of life."
"The ocean can be a beautiful place but sometimes a dangerous place as well."
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare will make a statement this morning.
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan is in charge of security arrangements.
The disaster began to unfold after 3pm (AEST) yesterday, when an Australian Customs and Border Protection surveillance plane spotted a vessel "in distress" 200km north of Christmas Island.
The observers immediately contacted Indonesian authorities, who are leading the rescue effort alongside the Australian navy, defence and customs.