By David King on Christmas Island, and Nathan Klein
THE death toll from the Christmas Island boat disaster will rise as relatives of the dead continue the agonising task of identifying bodies, police confirmed yesterday.
About half of the 30 confirmed dead have been identified by their loved ones, who are either survivors of the foundered boat or relatives who had already arrived on Christmas Island.
One woman emerged from the makeshift tent morgues yesterday, distraught after viewing the bodies of her mother, brother and uncle.
She was not on the vessel, but had been asked to identify her uncle. While there, she saw the bodies of her mother and her brother.
Australian Federal Police Superintendent Gavan Ryan said he expected to know by today how many people had been on the boat.
He said the death toll would rise above 30, but could not yet say how many more people had died.
“The survivors are interviewed,” he said. “Some people react in different ways but it is an extremely traumatic thing they do … it can be quite slow and laborious.
“It is very traumatic for everyone, the survivor and the people there at the viewing.”
Supt Ryan said the Indonesian crew and the passengers of the boat had been interviewed as part of the ongoing investigation into the cause of the shipwreck.
“My preliminary assessment of the information that I have received so far is that the weather played a very significant part of what led to the tragedy,” he said.
“I have no information from the survivors, or any other information, that the engine was sabotaged in any way. The crew have been interviewed and we would well and truly anticipate that the crew will be charged in [the] future.”
He would not comment on the suggestion that they could face multiple counts of manslaughter.
Divers continued the search for bodies along the rugged coastline yesterday.
“We don’t expect to find anyone alive,” he said.
“There are a number of caves nearby. There is a possibility of some of the deceased being in those caves. It’s quite tricky for us. It can be dangerous depending on the swell.”
A number of coffins have arrived on the island and were being stored at the airport.
All of the detainees have now left Christmas Island hospital. One remains in Royal Perth Hospital and five others treated there have been released to detention facilities in Perth.
It comes as memorial services were held last night on both Christmas Island and in Sydney.
Sydney memorial service
Friends and relatives are hoping for the best but fearing the worst after their loves ones sold everything they owned for the ride to “a better place”.
At a vigil in the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield last night, photos of people on board the wooden boat were plastered on the walls as people prayed for them.
It is not known whether they were dead or alive.
Some people were hopeful. Others had already convinced themselves their loved ones were never going to be found.
Devastated Iraqi-born Sami Faeli said six of his relatives were on board the boat when it smashed into the coast.
He visited his aunties and their children several months ago and knew they were desperate to join him in Australia.
But after they unsuccessfully applied for a visa, they thought the only way out was by illegal means.
“They had no money, but the boat ride cost anywhere between $6000 and $8000. They sold the guy in charge $4000 worth in jewellery for the trip, he cut them a deal to help them,” Mr Faeli, 25, said.
“They were really desperate to get out of Iraq. They had a dream of coming to Australia – it is a dream destination for Middle Eastern people.
“They know about the good conditions, the good living environment and even freedom of speech.”
Mr Faeli, who has been living in Australia legally since 1999, told his aunties to stay in Iraq and not risk their life.
Yesterday he found out they hadn’t listened to him.
“We knew there was a chance they were on the boat that crashed and when we found out they were, we were devastated,” he said.
“The past few days have been hellish for all of us – not knowing whether they are dead or alive.”
Shehab Saymeri’s three sisters and their two children were on board the boat. He also attended last nights vigil to send off those who were killed.
“I don’t think they are alive. It’s been a week,” he said.
“I don’t think we are going to find them but we are still praying that we do.”