Asylum seekers use phone to call for help

Mark Dodd, 8/2/09

A boatload of Australia- bound asylum-seekers used a satellite phone to make distress calls to refugee advocates, Christmas Island detainees and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority as their vessel drifted helplessly without power. Yesterday, Border Protection Command confirmed that 45 Tamil asylum-seekers were rescued by the HMAS Larrakia 91 nautical miles southwest of Christmas Island on Saturday night. But BPC sources, who asked not to be named, told The Australian that the organised manner in which asylum-seekers dialled for help had raised concerns. Some previous asylum-seeker vessels have been sabotaged to ensure rescue and processing on Christmas Island. “They (asylum-seekers) were calling just about everybody,” said one official.

The Australian; No Internet Text
Saturday night’s rescue underscored the risks and dangers associated with asylum-seeker voyages, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said he was notified of the boat’s plight about 1.45pm on Saturday. He said one of the passengers claimed the vessel had put to sea from Sri Lanka on January 20.
“They said they were without power, which I took to mean they were out of fuel,” Mr Rintoul said. “The boat itself was, I think, quite seaworthy. It wasn’t sinking — it was just drifting. And that particular boat had a satellite phone.”
Mr Rintoul said one passenger had said the group had been without food and water for four days and that there were “many sick people” on board. All the Tamils were expected to request refugee status because of security concerns in Sri Lanka and did not appear to have employed people traffickers to organise their voyage, Mr Rintoul said.
So far there is no evidence that the asylum-seekers sabotaged their boat, which was out of fuel and drifting on the open seas when intercepted by the navy.
Yesterday morning, passengers and crew were disembarked for health and security checks at the Christmas Island immigration detention centre.
It brings to 11 the number of boat arrivals this year, with 603 asylum-seekers detained.
That is almost a quarter of last year’s total of 60 boat interceptions, with 2726 refugee claimants detained along with 141 crew.