Asylum seekers call for help on mobiles

By Carmel Melouney
The Sunday Telegraph
November 08, 2009

ASYLUM seekers on boats have begun to use mobile phones to call the Australian Maritime Safety Authority directly in a bid to be rescued.

People aboard several boats have made multiple calls to AMSA and other government agencies, including Defence, stating they need help.

A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor confirmed asylum seekers on a boat in Indonesian waters had been calling AMSA via mobile phones.

"Obviously AMSA would get a message, usually via radio, but people use whatever method they can," the spokesman said.

"I believe they contacted a number of authorities, including Defence and other government agencies.

"I am aware AMSA has been in direct contact with people on board a vessel and those people are now on the Oceanic Viking. People contacted authorities here and were put through to AMSA."

He said AMSA had also received a distress call from another vessel that subsequently sank, the 27 survivors from which were now on Christmas Island.

"You cannot be selective as to who you can respond too, AMSA is obliged to respond," he said.

A Customs Border Protection spokesman confirmed that on October 16 at 11.45pm, Australian authorities received calls from people on a boat saying they were in trouble. These calls came from the asylum seekers who are now aboard the Oceanic Viking.

The spokesman did not know how many calls were made, but confirmed there had been multiple calls.


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