Up to 163 Boatpeople Feared Drowned En Route to Australia
DIMA Media Release
13 December 2000
The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, has asked Commonwealth agencies to investigate reports that two boats carrying up to 163 people seeking unlawful entry to Australia, might have sunk en-route to Ashmore Islands.
Mr Ruddock said there have been reports that a Japanese tanker had picked up four survivors from one boat believed to be carrying 87 people when it went down in waters between Indonesia and Ashmore Islands.
Mr Ruddock said every attempt was being made to identify the tanker, and obtain further information on the fate of the other 83 passengers and unknown number of crew on board the vessel.
"The weather conditions to the north of Australia have been atrocious, and there are reports that another boat, carrying 80 passengers, has also disappeared en-route," Mr Ruddock said.
"We are doing everything in our powers to verify these reports. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has been asked to attempt to locate any maritime reports of the incident. Coastwatch has also been informed."
Mr Ruddock said the Australian Government had been working hard to tell would-be unauthorised arrivals of the dangers of travelling illegally to Australia.
"Last March, we estimate that one-third of boats attempting to bring people illegally to Ashmore Islands did not arrive. These are treacherous waters and some of the boats are not seaworthy," Mr Ruddock said.
"This is a tragic reminder of the dangers. The people smugglers who organise these clandestine trips don't care if their passengers don't survive the trip. The Indonesian crews are also expendable once the organisers have received their money," he said.