Asylum-seekers set off with GPS but no crew

July 11, 2013

NAVY and Customs officers are concerned that people smugglers may have trialled a crewless boat after Border Protection Command was forced to rescue more than 100 Sudanese asylum-seekers in international waters who claimed they were put into the Java sea for Christmas Island with only a GPS to guide them.

The 101 Sudanese were drifting in a broken-down boat in international waters 110 nautical miles north of Christmas Island on Friday when the HMAS Larrakia responded to their distress call. A seaworthy asylum boat with crew can travel from Indonesia to Christmas Island in 30 hours but the Sudanese had been in the water for four days when they were located, The Australian has been told.

A spokeswoman for Border Protection Command confirmed yesterday that there was no crew onboard the asylum boat when the Australian navy frigate arrived on the scene.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison yesterday warned boat arrivals would pass the point of “no return” if Kevin Rudd was elected at this year’s federal poll.

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Immigration Minister Tony Burke hit back at Mr Morrison last night, saying his request for the Coalition frontbencher to “come to the table for a calm and mature discussion of the issues is not going well”.

“We need to deal with the problems of today, not photocopy the policies of the past, which people smugglers now know how to subvert,” he said.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare blamed an almost $1 billion blowout in the government’s contract with detention service provider Serco on the Coalition’s refusal to co-operate.

“I’d say this is what happens when you can’t get political parties in Australia to work together on this,” he said.

Mr Clare also told Sky News he was “not sure” why seven asylum-seekers jumped overboard when their vessel was approached by authorities last month.

“People smugglers make a million dollars a boat, and they know that by adapting their strategy to the different things that Border Protection might do, they can make sure that they can get the money and get people on to boats,” he said.

The Australian has been told that the Sudanese found without crew last Friday later told immigration officials that people smugglers in Indonesia gave them a GPS and sent them on their way.

Sri Lankan fishermen who travel direct from their homeland usually do not have crew, but many are able sailors.

And while it has long been common for an experienced captain to hand over an asylum boat to less-experienced crew for the final part of the journey to Christmas Island, tactics over the past year have angered rescuers. Last July, an experienced Indonesian people-smuggling captain left two boys, aged 13 and 14, to steer asylum-seekers towards the Australian territory of Christmas Island. The following month, the Indonesian crew of an asylum boat that was supposedly stricken shocked rescuers when they drove off in it.



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