September 30, 2013
A NEW group of asylum-seekers has been offloaded at Christmas Island after being plucked from the ocean by naval vessels.
Around 80 men, women and children disembarked from HMAS Maryborough and HMAS Armidale between 7.30am and 10am local time (9.30am and noon AEST).
Border Protection Command later said 78 asylum-seekers had arrived at Christmas Island, but provided no further details.
Those on board were issued with a Search And Rescue number from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, indicating they were the subject of a coordinated response. The Australian has been told the asylum-seekers, who appeared Iranian, were transferred into two navy vessels for safety reasons.
Today’s arrivals follow the interception of three boatloads of suspected asylum-seekers in the past week, with 128 people sent for offshore processing.
The first vessel was detected last Tuesday carrying 18 people from India, who are being interviewed in Darwin, Operation Sovereign Borders acting commander Air Marshall Mark Binskin told reporters.
The group is expected to be returned to India.
Seven West Papuans were dropped off on an Australian island in the Torres Strait last Wednesday.
“All seven persons were returned to Papua New Guinea on Thursday,” Air Marshall Binskin said.
Last Thursday, 70 people from a third boat were transferred to detention on Christmas Island.
Air Marshall Binskin was giving an update on border protection operations on Monday where he said 128 asylum seekers had been transferred to offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru during the week.
In addition, Australian naval vessels also went to the aid late last week of two vessels carrying a total of 75 boatpeople, who were returned to Indonesia.
The new arrivals also follow the sinking of a boat in Indonesian waters on Friday, killing at least 36 people and leaving dozens more missing.
Indonesian authorities are now conceding the search operation is about recovering the dead rather than finding anyone else alive.
Four more bodies, including those of two children, were found today, bringing the toll to 36 dead. Authorities say more than 20 people are missing, feared drowned.
Just 28 asylum seekers have been found alive since the boat, which was carrying about 80 people from Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq, broke apart near a beach in the district of Agrabinta in West Java on Friday morning.
The Lebanese foreign ministry has confirmed there were 68 Lebanese, including children, on board the ill-fated vessel.
The latest tragedy in waters between Indonesia and Australia is the first known fatal attempted crossing under the Coalition government
Tony Abbott is under pressure at home to stem the flood of asylum-seekers as he heads to Indonesia for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono which appear set to be dominated by migration issues.
Indonesia has expressed concern over Mr Abbott’s “tow-back” plan, which involves the Australian navy intercepting and forcing back Indonesian fishing boats crowded with asylum seekers.
The Prime Minister is expected to meet with Mr Yudhoyono later today.
Additional reporting: AAP