Patrols to begin the hunt off Java - The Pacific Solution
By Megan Saunders
The Australian
3 September 2001

THE navy and air force will patrol waters close to the Indonesian coastline in an effort to deter boats carrying asylum-seekers before they near Australian waters.

The Howard Government will deploy an extra five naval vessels, including Anzac frigates, and four P-3 Orion aircraft, to patrol international waters as close as 30 nautical miles off Java. Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the effort had shifted closer to Indonesia to push people-smugglers to turn back once they were intercepted.

'We intend to ensure every boat is approached,' he said. The RAN and RAAF will patrol inside a 1500km line stretching from Ashmore Reef, 800km west of Darwin, to Christmas Island, 350km south of Java's Sunda Strait.

Indonesia has offered port facilities for RAN ships and airfields for the RAAF's Orions to refuel.

Until now, patrols have operated closer to Australian territorial waters when they attempt to warn off illegal vessels.

They warn that the smugglers they face jail terms of up to 20 years, and the passengers face mandatory detention.

But the tactic often fails, with the boats proceeding into Australian waters and then to land, becoming the responsibility of the Department of Immigration.

'These were warnings given at the point people were irretrievable committed,' Mr Ruddock said. 'If you have come within 20km to 30km of Ashmore Reef people behave in different ways.'

But under the new tactic, Mr Ruddock said: 'You might well find people who are concerned that when they are still very close to home, they might be more willing to turn back.'

Australian authorities frequently use their power to warn off vessels, but it remains unclear whether, as part of the heightened effort, they will go beyond that.

The Coalition is seeking advice, but a government spokesman said the new campaign would not involve shooting at or ramming illegal vessels.

It is understood authorities may have additional power to board unflagged boats.

Boatpeople have been so determined to reach their destination that in some cases they have deliberately disabled their vessels so they would be rescued and brought to Australia.

A spokesman for Mr Ruddock said there had been cases of people 'pulling the bung', causing the boat to take on water. In other cases, passengers had disabled the boat engine and thrown drinking water and fuel overboard when warned off. With up to 1000 people waiting to board vessels to Christmas Island, the deployment of extra resources is intended to act as a strong psychological deterrent for people-smugglers.

'They will probably be a lot more assertive and maybe the show of force out there might make people think twice,' the Immigration spokesman said.

'To see a frigate bearing down on you and suggesting that maybe you might like to turn around does have a certain psychological effect.'

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