August 31, 2012
AUSTRALIA’S biggest month for asylum seeker arrivals has recorded the 35th new boat as the number of people intercepted eclipses 2000 for the first time.
Authorities today said navy patrol boat ACV Hervey Bay intercepted a vessel north of Cocos (Keeling) Islands yesterday evening.
“Initial indications suggest there were 31 people on board,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said ACV Hervey Bay said.
“Border Protection Command has transferred these people to Australian Government authorities on Cocos (Keeling) Islands.”
However, the government has been unable to guarantee all new arrivals since the switch to offshore processing on August 13 would be transferred to Nauru.
Mr Clare said the people would be transferred to Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial security, health and identity checks and their reasons for travel will be established.
“People arriving by boat without a visa after 13 August 2012 run the risk of transfer to a regional processing country,” he said.
The latest boat arrival takes to about 580 the number of suspected asylum seekers who have arrived in Australian waters in the past week.
It was the eighth boat stopped by Australian authorities since last Friday.
Meanwhile Australian ships and aircraft will this morning join the search for survivors from an asylum boat that sunk off Indonesia.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority says the Indonesian search and rescue authority, BASARNAS, will continue its rescue operation west of Java at about 9.30am today.
Merchant vessels Frontier Coronet, Voyager Explorer and Pelafigue Tide and two aircraft from Perth will join today’s search and rescue operation.
More than 90 people are still missing, but 54 have been rescued. The ABC is reporting that a merchant vessel yesterday recovered a body in the water near the sunken vessel.
The 54 survivors, including three with injuries, are set to be transferred to Merak in Indonesia, a port city on the west coast of Java, for medical attention.
With the search for more survivors set to resume this morning, authorities say a crucial rescue window may already have passed.
Most of the 54 survivors rescued yesterday spent the night aboard the Australian navy vessel HMAS Maitland.
Six men were plucked from the sea early yesterday by merchant vessel APL Bahrain.
Another 16 were spotted from the air in the afternoon and were later picked up by HMAS Maitland, and another 23 were recovered by merchant vessels in the area. The circumstances under which another ten people were found are not yet known.
All were on a boat carrying up to 150 people on its way from Indonesia to Australia.
Two distress signals were received from the boat early on Wednesday morning off Java’s western-most tip, but a search failed to find them.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the initial call of distress from the boat said the boat was carrying women and children.
Mr Clare lashed out at the people smugglers this morning saying the smugglers were running a “closing down sale” by tempting refugee hopefuls with the offer of a ride to Australia before offshore processing rules kick in – and warned their opportunistic grab for asylum seekers’ money could continue.
“They’re telling people they’re selling them a ticket to Australia,” he said. “What they’re really doing is selling them a ticket to Nauru or a ticket to the bottom of the sea”.
Mr Clare said chances of finding survivors were much slimmer after the first 48 hours after the boat sank.
He said the passing of legislation for offshore processing had fueled the people smugglers to act quickly.
“I think the legislation (to set up offshore processing) only encourages people smugglers to try and get people onto boats as quickly as they can because they know setting up offshore processing in Nauru, in Manus Island…will shut down their business model,” he said.
“More than 300 people have died in the last three months and it appears more people have died in the last 24 hours.”
Mr Clare said he expected people smugglers to keep trying to sell asylum seekers tickets to Australia, saying some asylum seekers had already paid half their ticket.
“My message to them, is don’t get on the boat,” he said.
– with Anna Caldwell, Steve Scott and AAP