Australia sights suspected asylum vessel off west coast

Australian media reports vessel carry Vietnamese refugees, first sighting in two years

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Australian media has reported on Monday that a suspected refugee vessel was spotted off Australia's remote west coast after two years.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), the small boat was seen near Dampier, about 1,500 km north of Perth and carrying 17 people from Vietnam who are in good health.

Crew members of an oil and gas company, Modec spotted the boat and notified the officials ABC reported, a police boat was deployed the search for refugees afterwards.

The Australian government has not commented on the reports as other "on water" operations, but the media says the vessel was intercepted and the asylum seekers were taken to Christmas Island. A surveillance plane is reportedly circling waters off the coast of Dampier.

Australia rejects to accept refugees arriving to its territory by boats and sends them to detention camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific after offshore processing. None of the refugees are allowed to settle in Australia.

The vessel, the first sighting since the Tony Abbott government introduced the "turn back the boats" policy in 2013, would be a blow to the conservative government's claims that its policy to stop the boats of asylum seeking refugees

The United Nations and human rights groups have criticised Australia over its tough asylum-seeker policy, accusing the country of shirking international obligations.

It is also a hot debated issue in the country as the opposition parties accuse the government for the policy and secrecy over the immigration process.

"There's no justification for the minister and the department to keep the Australian people and the Australian Parliament in the dark," Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young told ABC.

"Be upfront about what has occurred here, and just have the guts to tell the Australian people what indeed is going on at our borders."

Last month media also reported that Australian officials have paid thousands of dollars to the captain and crew of a refugee boat that was carrying asylum seekers, who were then ordered to return to Indonesia. The incident angered Jakarta, which said Canberra would have stooped to a "new low" if the reports are true.

Abbott told an Australian radio that his government uses "creative strategies" to stop the boats in response, adding "by hook or by crook we are going to stop the trade."

TRTWorld and agencies