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Hope ends for asylum survivors

Rescue authorities have given up hope of finding any survivors after an asylum-seeker boat carrying at least 55 people to Australia capsized in the Indian Ocean.

The boat's submerged hull was spotted by air on Friday, and bodies, life jackets and debris have been spotted near Christmas Island, an Australian territory nearer to Indonesia than to the mainland.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority called off the air search on Sunday night, based on medical advice that no one could have survived that long in the sea. The authority and border protection officials decided not to mount a new search to recover the bodies due to other demands on resources.

Border Protection Command said its vessels and aircraft were busy with "a range of high priority operations" near Christmas Island and elsewhere.

"Our priority is responding to other vessels which may require assistance and preventing any further loss of life," a border protection statement said.

"If operations permit, Border Protection Command will, where it remains feasible and without further risk to life, endeavour to recover any bodies which may be relocated", it said, adding that the likelihood of recovering bodies would diminish over time.

The capsized boat was seen 75 miles north west of Christmas Island, which is 310 miles south of Jakarta and 1,600 miles from Perth, the nearest major Australian coastal city.

Thirteen bodies have been spotted, but ships did not interrupt the search for survivors to retrieve the dead.

The boat was stationary but appeared not to be in distress when it was first spotted by the crew of an air force plane last Wednesday. It was then 32 miles north of Christmas Island, where Australia runs a detention camp for asylum seekers.

The air crew counted 55 people on deck. They were mostly men, but also women and children. Their nationalities are unknown. The maritime authority' said there could have been as many as 60 asylum seekers and Indonesian crew aboard.

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