July 12, 2013
UPDATE: An asylum seeker boat carrying 197 passengers has been intercepted off Christmas Island, in one of the biggest groups to arrive so far this year.
Navy patrol boat HMAS Bathurst and Australian Customs Vessel Triton, operating under the co-ordination of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre, provided help to the suspected irregular entry vessel after it sought help north-east of Christmas Island overnight.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said initial indications suggested there were 197 people on board.
They have now been transferred to Christmas Island to undergo initial security, health and identity checks and to establish their reasons for travel.
Most asylum seeker boats carry fewer than 100 passengers but on June 2, one carrying 204 was intercepted.
Some carry just a few, with a vessel intercepted on May 17 transporting just one passenger and one crewman.
The Opposition said the arrival of this boat, the second biggest this year, showed people smugglers had not skipped a beat with Labor’s change of leadership.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was proving to be just as strong a pull factor the second time around.
“Almost 1600 people have arrived on 18 boats in just the two weeks since Kevin Rudd returned to the prime ministership. And Kevin Rudd has no plans to stop them,” he said.
Opposition justice spokesman Michael Keenan said boats were arriving more frequently and, alarmingly, carrying more people.
“This trend raises concerns for both the safety of those onboard these boats but also concerns for the safety of the men and women of our Border Protection Command who are tasked with intercepting them,” he said.