8 Indonesian fishermen dead 11 rescued off Australia

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CANBERRA (AP)  Eight Indonesian fishermen have drowned and 11 have been rescued after a powerful tropical storm hit a barren island off the northwest coast of Australia.

Two primitive Indonesian wooden fishing boats stood in the way of Cyclone Her Ilsa. Cyclone Ilsa made landfall on Friday as Australia’s strongest storm in eight years, gusting winds at apparently record speeds of 175 miles per hour.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement that the Ilsa sank in “extreme weather conditions” on 11 or 12 April while gathering strength in the Indian Ocean and  route to shore.

Another Express 1 with 10 crew members ran aground in the early hours of April 12 on the sandy outcropping of Bedwell Island, about 300 kilometers (200 miles) west of the Australian tourist town of Broome. The sole survivor of the Putri Jaya said in a statement that she spent 30 hours underwater before being washed up on the same island. “They all went without food or water for six days before being rescued Monday night,” the agency said.

Putri Jaya survivors tied themselves to fuel containers to stay afloat before swimming to the island, said Putu Sudayana, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency in Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara province.

The survivors were sighted from a plane on Monday on a routine surveillance mission by the Australian Border Force, which patrols the approach of Australia’s north for smuggling and other illegal activities. All 11 boarded as the light faded.

Helicopter Gordon Watt, manager of his provider PHI Aviation, said the crew of the rescue helicopter failed to land on the sand.

“They had to retrieve the winch, which in itself was a difficult task,” Watt said. “The daytime meant the crew would be dark during the rescue, so we had to switch to using night vision goggles.”

The survivor was taken to Broome Hospital, and Borderforce said in his statement that he was “in good health despite the ordeal.”

“This incident highlights the dangers of traveling in small boats that are unsuitable for the rough seas and adverse weather conditions common in northern Australian waters,” the statement said.

The survivors will be flown from Broome to the northern city of Darwin, from where they will return to Indonesia, the statement said.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry said the Indonesian consulate in Darwin had asked the fishermen to meet and offer assistance. The consulate will facilitate their repatriation, the statement said, thanking Australian authorities for their assistance.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which manages search and rescue operations in Australian waters, did not immediately respond when asked Wednesday if it was looking for other potential survivors. Bedwell Island is part of the Rowley Shoals, which consists of three coral reefs.

The only fatality from Ilsa, the largest Category 5 cyclone to cross the coast of Western Australia’s Pilbara region southwest of Broome, is expected to be a missing Indonesian fisherman.

His 289 km/h (180 mph) gust, recorded on an island off the Pilbara, was the fastest ever recorded by the Australian Meteorological Service’s instruments in the same country. The figures are provisional and require further analysis, but the station said on Tuesday that he had broken his previous record of 267 km/h (166 mph) set by Cyclone Vance on the Pilbara coast in 1999.