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Rescue operation under way for capsized boat of asylum seekers headed to Australia

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority reported that an Australian Navy ship and a cargo ship had rescued 73 survivors near Indonesia. 

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A boat carrying about 200 people capsized south of Indonesia and scores were feared drowned Thursday in an apparent attempt to reach Australia to seek asylum. Indonesian and Australian navies launched efforts to rescue survivors.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. cited the Australian Maritime Safety Authority as reporting that an Australian Navy ship and a cargo ship had rescued 73 survivors. The authority's spokeswoman could not be immediately contacted for comment.

"We're doing all we can to get as many vessels and aircraft to the scene to assist as possible," AMSA spokesman Jonathan Wills told ABC.

The boat capsized about 120 miles north of the Australian territory of Christmas Island — and about the same distance south of Indonesia — with "up to 200 people" on board, the Australian Customs Service said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear where the passengers were from.

Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland. It is a popular target for a growing number of asylum seekers, many from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, who attempt to reach Australia on overcrowded fishing boats from Indonesia — sometimes with deadly consequences.

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