Another boatload of asylum seekers has been intercepted off the northern Australian coast – the 37th intercepted by Australian authorities so far this year.
Australian Navy patrol boat HMAS Ararat, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted the vessel near the Ashmore Islands, between the Kimberley coast and the island of Timor at about 4.20pm (AEDT) on Thursday.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said the vessel, thought to have 34 passengers and four crew members on board, was first spotted by a surveillance aircraft crew.
The group will be transferred to Christmas Island for security, identity and health checks.
The latest arrivals come as the federal government grapples with a solution to the crisis involving 78 Tamil asylum seekers who refuse to leave the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking and enter a detention centre in Indonesia.
The asylum seekers were rescued almost two weeks ago by an Australian navy vessel in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone, before being transferred to the Oceanic Viking, which remains anchored 10 nautical miles off Bintan Island.
People smugglers arrested
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Thursday said the Australian and Indonesian governments had great patience in dealing with the 78 Tamils, who are refusing to leave the vessel in Indonesia.
Mr Rudd has not ruled out using cash payments to entice them to disembark.
The ship, which is running out of food and drinking water, will be resupplied on Sunday.
Mr O’Connor said 19 people-smuggling facilitators or organisers had been arrested in co-operation with Indonesian and Malaysian authorities since September last year.
Over the same period, federal police have charged 59 people with offences under the Migration Act (1958), including a 55 boat crew members and four Australian organisers.