July 20, 2012
IT is a routine process performed more and more often by the Royal Australian Navy – empty asylum seeker boats being towed back out to sea and set alight.
Yesterday The Daily Telegraph got a rare look as two boats – which this week carried more than 100 asylum seekers across the ocean – were sent to a watery grave.
One boat had been at sea for three weeks transporting 51 Sri Lankans, the other carried 65 people from Indonesia.
Both vessels smouldered for several hours before sinking about 20 nautical miles off Christmas Island.
The burnings came as another asylum boat arrived at Christmas Island yesterday morning. A RAAF aircraft spotted the vessel, which was intercepted by HMAS Childers on Wednesday night. The 25 men on board, from Sri Lanka, were brought ashore at Flying Fish Cove just after 10am.
It was the eighth boat to arrive in Australian waters in just four days, with 913 people arriving this month.
The latest boat was tied up at a mooring off Christmas Island and is also likely to be burned. Asylum boats are routinely towed into deep water by navy ships, or moved under their own steam, before Customs removes any fuel and sets them alight.
Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul claimed burning asylum boats encouraged people smugglers to send only the most unseaworthy vessels to Australia: “Burning asylum seeker boats is one of the Australian government policies which makes boat travel more dangerous. There’s a disincentive created by the process of burning the boats over getting the best possible boats for the journey.”
A Customs spokeswoman said unseaworthy vessels were destroyed by re due to quarantine risks. She said burning the boats was legal under the Customs Act and it was more economical than repairing them.
“The preferred method of destruction for irregular entry vessels is burning at sea for environmental, quarantine and safety reasons,” she said.
“Burning is more likely to result in the hull sinking in one large piece, preventing the risk of collision by shipping, or damage to the environment.
“Before burning, all objects on board the vessel that will not burn or sink are removed, along with fuels and vapours.”
Meanwhile, a small group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers from two vessels rescued near the Cocos Islands earlier this week will be own the 900km to Christmas Island on two charter ights in coming days.