MERAK, Indonesia (AFP) - Rescuers have abandoned a search for a boat carrying an estimated 150 asylum seekers reported sinking in Indonesia’s Sunda Strait after failing to find the vessel, an official said Wednesday.

Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) received an alert from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) at around 1:30 am (1830 GMT Tuesday) that a boat was in distress between Java and Sumatra.

“We deployed our rescue team to look for the vessel this morning, but there’s no sign of it,” Basarnas spokesman Gagah Prakoso told AFP. “We have cancelled the search. If we receive information about new boat sighting, we will send our team out again,” he added.

A Basarnas officer on duty, Yopi Haryadi, earlier said two 36-metre police rescue boats and two helicopters were deployed in the morning to look for the boat.

He added that the vessel had sent a distress signal 220 nautical miles from the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island carrying around 150 people, according to information received from AMSA.

Canberra is facing a steady influx of asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat, many of whom use Indonesia as a transit hub, boarding leaky wooden vessels after fleeing their home countries. Australian authorities this month said 300 boatpeople had died en route to the country this year, with boats being intercepted by the Australian navy almost on a daily basis.

Two weeks ago, Canberra announced its intention to transfer asylum-seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea in the Pacific as part of a tough new policy to deter them from making the dangerous sea voyage. But more than 1,000 boatpeople have arrived since the policy was adopted. The new policy represents a return to the era of the previous conservative government that sent asylum-seekers to Nauru and PNG but which the centre-left Labor rolled back soon after taking office in late 2007.  Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Tuesday rejected suggestions she is at odds with Papua New Guinea and Nauru on the thorny issue of shipping asylum-seekers to small Pacific islands.