Authorities have grave fears for up to 70 asylum-seekers feared drowned after their boat sank en route to Australia.

At least 22 people, mostly children, drowned when the boat carrying about 120 passengers sank in rough seas off the coast of Java.

One of the passengers, a Lebanese man, lost his pregnant wife and eight children in the disaster.

Just 25 of those aboard had been rescued before search efforts were postponed because of failing light.


Strong waves yesterday prevented Indonesian rescuers from continuing the search. "The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They're 4m to 6m, we hope conditions improve soon," said Warsono, a Cianjur police official. No helicopter had been deployed.

A police official from Cianjur, Java said authorities were alerted after bodies were found floating in an estuary. He said the boat had broken into several pieces.

The latest tragedy in waters between Indonesia and Australia comes amid worsening tensions between Canberra and Jakarta over the asylum-seeker issue, and ahead of talks in Jakarta tomorrow between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.