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Crew fled with life vests as packed Indonesian boat sank

Juni Kriswanto / AFP - Getty Images

A police officer carries a young survivor to an immigration office in Watulimo, Indonesia, on Dec. 18, 2011. More than 200 people were feared dead after a heavily overloaded boat packed mostly with Afghan and Iranian asylum-seekers sank off Indonesia en route to Australia.

Reuters reports:

The crew and captain of an Indonesian boat packed with illegal immigrants grabbed life vests and swam away as it sank during a heavy storm, leaving more than 200 passengers missing, Australian media reported on Monday.

Surviving asylum seekers said terrified passengers on the boat that was heading for Australia were left to drown as it broke apart in stormy seas about 55 miles off the coast of Java, Indonesia.

"The captain and six crew took the life vests and started swimming away," Pakistani Saed Mohammad Zia, 18, told the Daily Telegraph.

Juni Kriswanto / AFP - Getty Images

Members of a search and rescue team continue to look for victims of the sinking in Watulimo on Dec. 19, 2011.

"They were all from Indonesia. We lost sight of them in the big waves and we never saw them again. We don't know if they were rescued."

The number of survivors, missing and those feared dead is still not clear, authorities said of the latest of such disasters in recent years for immigrants travelling via Indonesia in search of a better life in Australia.

Many of the passengers on the wooden vessel, which sank on Saturday, are believed to be economic migrants from countries including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those that survived suffered severe dehydration and exhaustion after struggling to stay afloat in the rough seas, some clinging to wreckage for five hours.

"We were just praying to God that someone would help us. We thought it was the last of our life story," said Esmat Adine, 24, from Afghanistan.

"People were dying in front of us. The bodies were lying in front of us in the water, women and children mostly," he told the Daily Telegraph. Read the full story.

Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images

An asylum seeker who survived crys during an interviewe in Blitar, East Java, on Dec. 19, 2011.

Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images

A survivor receiving treatment on Dec. 19, 2011 in Blitar, East Java. The tragedy is expected to further inflame the debate in Australia as how best to handle the influx of asylum seekers.