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Four dead after boat capsizes near Australia, officials say

By Zaina Adamu, CNN
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 0308 GMT (1108 HKT)
Royal Australian Navy's David Johnston (R) and Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare (L), spoke to the press on Wednesday.
Royal Australian Navy's David Johnston (R) and Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare (L), spoke to the press on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It was not clear where the passengers were from or where they were going
  • A news release from an Australian agency described them as "asylum seekers"
  • 144 were rescued after the vessel capsized in rough seas
  • Another boat capisized in the area last week, leaving eight missing

(CNN) -- Turbulent waters north of Christmas Island near Australia caused a boat carrying asylum-seekers to capsize Tuesday night leaving four passengers dead, according to Australian Customs and Border Protection.

Approximately 150 were on board the vessel, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

A Royal Australian Air Force plane and an operation by the Australian navy rescued 144 people about 70 nautical miles off the island. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre coordinated efforts to gather passengers to safety. It was not clear whether other passengers were missing, or where they were from.

Other vessels were radioed and assisted in rescue efforts until around 9:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. ET) when the search was discontinued, said the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service in a news release, which referred to the passengers as "asylum seekers."

Prior to the capsizing, the boat requested help from the Australian patrol vessel HMAS Albany, but bad weather would not allow a boarding.

When the Albany finally arrived along with HMAS Warramunga, they headed back to land not long before the boat tipped over, causing people on board to catapult into sea.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority originally stated that 180 people were on board, but provided a smaller number later in the day.

Another boat carrying asylum-seekers capsized just days earlier around the same location, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

On Friday, a Melbourne man called authorities for help when he noticed a vessel carrying 97 people was in danger, the report said.

Authorities arrived five hours later. Eight people from that boat are still missing and a 1-year-old baby died in the incident. The newspaper said the passengers were believed to be from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

CNN reached out to both the Australian Royal Navy and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority regarding Tuesday's incident but neither agency has responded.

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