Australian authorities say rescuers operating in waters off Christmas Island have found no new survivors of a boat wreck that killed at least 28 asylum seekers Wednesday.
Officials said cyclonic conditions hampered the search effort Thursday in the area where the wooden boat broke apart a day earlier as it smashed into the island's jagged shoreline and threw its occupants into the rough waters. Rescuers picked up 42 survivors from the wreckage on Wednesday.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the death toll is likely to rise. The 28 people confirmed dead include women and children. Her immigration minister, Chris Bowen, says the boat may have been carrying as many as 100 people from Iran, Iraq and Kurdish areas of the Middle East.
Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean and houses a detention center for asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat, often from Indonesia.
Most of the survivors of the boat wreck were recovering Thursday in a hospital on the island. Several badly injured people were flown to the Australian mainland for treatment.
Christmas Island residents said they were alerted to the boat's plight when they heard screams coming from the passengers as it broke apart at the foot of a cliff. Some residents threw life jackets into the water below but many said they felt powerless to help.
Ms. Gillard described the wreck as "a truly horrific event, a terrible human tragedy," and promised a criminal investigation into the human traffickers responsible.
Refugee advocates suggested Australian authorities should have done more to intercept the boat before it neared Christmas Island's rocky coast. Australian customs personnel frequently monitor the waters between Indonesia and Christmas Island for human trafficking.
Ms. Gillard responded to those concerns by saying rough and dangerous seas limit the effectiveness of Australia's radar and other surveillance mechanisms.
Rights group Amnesty International said the only way of preventing asylum seekers from attempting dangerous sea journeys is to provide them with "viable alternatives."