Abbott in Indonesia to progress talks on asylum seekers

THE deaths of 31 asylum seekers off the west Java coast last week has cast a shadow over Prime Minister Tony Abbott's first official visit to Indonesia on Monday - a visit originally meant to strengthen trade ties.

Mr Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb arrived in Jakarta on Monday for a series of high level meetings.

On the agenda were trade, particularly live exports, as well as foreign investment in Australian land and asylum-seeker issues.

But the tragic deaths of more than 30 refugees just eight nautical miles off the west Java coast on Friday overshadowed the talks.

More details on the circumstances surrounding the deaths, which were originally reported through the media rather than the Commonwealth Government, were revealed on Monday.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Operation Sovereign Borders Acting Commander Mark Binskin briefed reporters on the most recent arrivals.

Mr Morrison said Mr Abbott was in Indonesia to progress talks on asylum seekers, despite a disagreement over responsibility contributing to the deaths.

Acting Cmdr Binskin revealed that despite Australian authorities reporting the vessel in distress to its Indonesian counterpart agency, Basarnas, that agency refused to take a coordination role in the rescue.

He said a series of communications on Friday regarding a "vessel in distress" led to Australian authorities finding out the vessel was within shallow waters off the coast of west Java.

But despite informing Basarnas of the vessel, and possible risk to lives, the Basarnas "advised they couldn't take a coordination role".

Acting Cmdr Binskin said the boat, then carrying 55 people, was in shallow water off the island's coast, and was inaccessible to Australian vessels in the area.

It is understood the lack of immediate response led to the deaths of 31 people on board, with 22 others surviving the ordeal during a later recovery effort.

Mr Morrison said despite the government's policy not to update the public on recent arrivals, he provided a statement "as soon as we understood what happened".

During the past week, a further three boats had arrived carrying 128 asylum-seekers, 88 of whom were transferred to Manus Island while 60 were moved to Nauru.

Acting Cmdr Binskin also said a fourth boat carrying more than 70 people arrived on Monday, but he was unable to give further detail as it was outside of the reporting period.

Mr Morrison said the update came as Mr Abbott sought to start negotiations on a possible new agreement with Indonesia regarding asylum-seekers.