Survivors of the latest asylum-boat tragedy will be sent back to Indonesia, according to Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare.

Mr Clare said a major search-and-rescue operation was now taking place 45 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia.

He confirmed six people had been rescued by the APL Bahrain, but said grave fears were held for the remainder of the 150 people reportedly on board the sunken vessel. Mr Clare said he expected the six survivors to be returned to Indonesia.

“We have a window of opportunity. People can survive in the sea for up to 36, maybe 48 hours, and that’s why so many vessels are heading to the scene,” he said.

The latest tragedy comes as asylum seekers already en route to Australia plunge ahead with the dangerous last seaward leg of their journey, despite the threat of ending up in Nauru or Manus Island detention centres.

About 300 people have died in waters north of Australia this year.

Mr Clare today said Australia’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) received two phone calls, at 4.20am and 5.05am yesterday, from a person on board a vessel requesting assistance.

“In the second phone call the person provided RCC with the vessel’s location, approximately eight nautical miles south-west of Java,” Mr Clare said.

“They also reported that there were 150 people on board, including women and children. They said that the vessel had engine failure, and it was taking on water.”

Mr Clare said RCC alerted the Indonesian search-and-rescue agency, Basarnas, which took control of the operation and sent two rescue vessels and two helicopters to the area.

However they did not find any trace of the vessel, and about 4pm AEST yesterday Basarnas called off the search.

Read more:

• Emily Conolan – Safe Refuge? Making humane decisions in an inhumane world

Emily Conolan will speak on the hard decisions surrounding the issue of refugees.

Emily grew up in Launceston, studied in Melbourne and New Zealand, volunteered in Mongolia and in Indigenous Australian communities.

She has her Masters in International Development and is currently a teacher and mum.

Emily founded the Tasmanian Asylum Seekers Support group last year in response to the Pontville opening.

The TASS group ran a volunteer visitor program and activities within the centre and now runs a small support group for asylum seekers on bridging visas.

FRIDAY AUGUST 31, 2012, 1pm-2pm at the cathedral.

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