The Java-Christmas Island people-smuggling trade is ramping up again, with 452 passengers arriving so far this month and at least another 140 people likely to be on the way.
The pick-up in asylum-seekers came as about 20 of them were thrown into rough seas to the north of Christmas Island and successfully rescued on Wednesday afternoon after their vessel capsized during an emergency transfer on to an Australian navy vessel.
Another major tragedy on the high seas was avoided only after the HMAS Parramatta arrived on the scene in the early hours of Wednesday morning and provided the 91 mainly Afghan asylum-seekers with water and lifejackets.
The vessel, which had been monitored overnight by merchant vessel ANL Warringa, had first alerted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on Tuesday that it required assistance and cited mechanical difficulties.
Dangerous conditions prevented the immediate transfer of passengers to the navy vessel with a boarding party determining the vessel remained seaworthy and had a working pump.
By midday, the asylum-seeker vessel that had continued towards Christmas Island started taking on water and an emergency transfer was arranged despite confusion caused by continued calls from those on board to Australian rescue agencies.
Only 90 minutes after the transfer commenced at 1pm, the boat had capsized, throwing 22 people into the rough seas, including some navy personnel.
An hour-long search and rescue completed by 3.30pm was able to successfully recover all those in the water with assistance from a maritime patrol aircraft and another navy vessel, HMAS Albany.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare also issued a statement saying HMAS Parramatta was “confident” all people were recovered from the water, some with minor injuries.
Later on Wednesday night, Australian authorities were required to provide assistance to another asylum-seeker vessel in distress to the northeast of Christmas Island, with 66 passengers being transferred to the HMAS Glenelg.
In Indonesia, police sources said 136 Iranians and four Iraqis briefly detained during an Immigration raid near Jakarta were almost certainly on their way to a smugglers’ boat, or already aboard.
Sixteen of the group escaped as immigration officials were checking their papers at Wisma Puspitek boarding house in Serpong, just southwest of Jakarta. The other 124 were released soon afterwards because they had valid permits.
Unlike travellers from other high-risk origin countries who must enter Indonesia illegally, Iranians are allowed visas on arrival at Jakarta’s international airport. That has been a major factor contributing to the big upsurge in the past two years of Iranian asylum-seekers arriving at Christmas Island after transiting through Java.
The Iranians told Immigration officials they were visiting the nearby Puspitek technology university and science and technology research campus. However, the party’s unusual travel arrangements pointed to a people-smuggling operation. The Iranians have since disappeared.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said yesterday he had requested a briefing into reports that the bodies of 98 dead asylum-seekers were thrown from a wooden vessel in an incident off the east coast of Sri Lanka.Source: The Australian – “People-smugglers ramping up again”
- Australian navy rescues asylum seekers (news.com.au)
- Navy rescues 91, boat crisis deepens (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- Australia asked to keep the peace after Sea Shepherd rammed by whaling ship near Antarctica (craighill.net)