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04 December 2023

All onboard Australia-bound asylum-seeker boat found: reports

Photo: AFP


All of the asylum-seekers from a Vietnamese boat that ran aground in crocodile-infested waters off Australia have been rounded up without incident, media reports said Tuesday.

The rickety vessel - the first asylum-seeker boat to reach Australia in almost four years - began sinking near the Daintree River north of popular tourist city Cairns in Queensland state on Sunday.

Those on board fled into dense mangrove rainforest teeming with crocodiles, venomous snakes, sandflies and giant cassowaries - one of the world's deadliest and most aggressive birds.

Broadcaster ABC said 17 people were on the boat and the final two on the loose were caught Tuesday morning, citing State Emergency Service local area director Peter Rinaudo.

"It was determined at that stage that all the missing persons they believe they were looking for were located," he told ABC in explaining that emergency personnel had been stood down by Queensland police.

The Cairns Post said the last two found were the boat's skipper and first mate, and they were detained as they tried to cross the Daintree River by ferry.

It cited an Australian Border Force (ABF) official as saying: "We're still trying to confirm the identities and motives of the two men picked up this morning. But we're fairly confident we've got the total number."

The newspaper said the two men were heading for nearby Noah Beach, where they had arranged to be picked up by other members of an alleged people-smuggling syndicate based out of Sydney.

The ABF made no immediate confirmation to AFP on whether all the boat's passengers had been caught or other information about the vessel and who was onboard.

On Monday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the partially sunk vessel had come from Vietnam and was the first boat of asylum-seekers to reach the country since 2014.

He made clear they would not be allowed to settle in Australia.

Under Canberra's tough immigration policy, asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are either turned back or sent to remote Pacific camps where conditions have been widely criticised.

The United Nations and human rights advocates say the policy violates the 1951 Refugee Convention of which Australia is a signatory.

Most asylum-seeker boats that have arrived in Australia in recent years embarked from Indonesia, though some originated in Sri Lanka.