Death toll in asylum seeker boat tragedy hits 30

Rohan Sullivan and Tanalee Smith

Police divers have pulled two bodies from the sunken wreckage of a boat that was packed with asylum seekers when it was smashed on rocks on a remote Australian island, taking the death toll to at least 30 today.

The true scale of Wednesday's tragedy may never be known because officials have not been able to determine how many people were aboard the boat, and many may have been carried away by currents into the Indian Ocean or sunk to the depths.

"Given the passage of time, I believe we do need to face the grim reality" that no more survivors will be found, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said: "The sad reality is we are now looking at more a recovery of bodies operation than a search for survivors."

The wooden boat, carrying up to 100 asylum seekers of Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish origin, smashed into the jagged, limestone cliffs of Christmas Island, plunging the passengers into massive waves that battered them against the rocks.

Twelve men, nine women and seven children -- including four infants -- were among the dead, the Customs and Border Protection Service said.

Forty-one people were rescued by navy and customs boats, while one man managed to clamber out of the surf to safety. Among the survivors were three Indonesians who are suspected people smugglers.

More than two dozen survivors were being cared for at a local hospital, and authorities transported five people with the worst injuries to mainland Australia for treatment.

The tragedy highlighted the dangers hundreds of refugees face every year as they try to sail from Indonesia to Australia in barely seaworthy boats.