Boat carrying 80 suspected asylum seekers arrives at Christmas Island

The latest boat arrival comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott heads to Indonesia to discuss among other issues, asylum seekers. Photo: Kate Geraghty Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Operation Sovereign Borders acting commander, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, attend the weekly update in Sydney. Photo: Peter Rae

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Australian authorities has confirmed that three boats carrying asylum seekers have arrived during the past week, with Indians and West Papuans among those on board.

In the second update on Operation Sovereign Borders, acting Commander Mark Binskin said that 18 Indian nationals had arrived in Darwin last Tuesday, seven West Papuans arrived in the Torres Strait on Wednesday and on Thursday, a further 70 passengers and five crew arrived at Christmas Island.

Air Marshal Binskin also noted reports that a further group of about 80 people had arrived at Christmas Island on Monday, but said this boat fell outside the reporting period and would be confirmed next week.

He said that over the past week, 88 people had been transferred to Manus Island and 60 had been sent to Nauru.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison also told the briefing that the West Papuan group had already been returned to Papua New Guinea and the Indian group would be sent back to India.

In Monday’s briefing, Air Marshal Binskin also defended the actions of Australian authorities, when responding to a boat that sank off the coast of Java last Friday, killing an estimated 31 people.

The acting commander said that contrary to some reports, Australian authorities were not aware of the boat for 26 hours prior to it foundering and said extensive work was done to try and locate the vessel.

”Our response was professional and timely,” he told reporters in Sydney.

In an interview with Fairfax Radio shortly after the weekly update, it was put to Mr Morrison that the sinking was “Indonesia’s tragegy” as the boat was in Indonesian territorial waters.

“Well, I think that’s true. I know that’s true,” Mr Morrison responded.

Air Marshal Binskin read out a chronology of Australia’s response to the boat that sank, which showed that the AFP on Christmas Island first got word a boat was in trouble at 7.57am on Friday but were not given its location.

When a location was first established, it was approximately 25 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia. Later in the afternoon, the boat was reported to be 8 nautical miles off Indonesia.

Australia sent out broadcast to shipping and tasked a Navy plane and a border protection surveillance plane to look for the boat.

At 10.41am when Australia asked Indonesia authorities to take over the rescue coordination, it was knocked back.

An Australian surveillance plane searched the area from about 12.50pm to 5pm, but did not see the boat.

Merchant vessels were also not able to get close to the area because of shallow waters close to the coast.

Air Marhsal Binskin said that contrary to an account from a survivor, Australian authorities did not indicate that assistance would be provided within two hours.

Air Marshall Binskin also reported that Australian authorities had gone to the aid of two other boats on Thursday and Friday and had transferred the passengers and crew back to Indonesia.

The acting commander stressed that both boats were unseaworthy.

A turn-back or tow-back under the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders would differ from a rescue operation in that the asylum vessel would be deemed seaworthy, and the Australian authorities would order it back, or tow it back into or near Indonesia’s waters.

Earlier on Monday, Christmas Island councillor and union leader Gordon Thomson posted on Twitter that about 80 men, women and children had arrived on the island between 11 and 12.30 AEST.

Mr Thomson also told Fairfax Radio that the group arrived on two Navy boats and had numbers pinned to their clothes, which indicated they may have been rescued.

While Air Marshal Binskin would not confirm the exact details of the boat arrival, he told reporters in Sydney that he did not believe it had involved a rescue operation.

Under a new Coalition policy, the government does not announce each boat carrying asylum seeker as it arrives, providing a weekly briefing to reporters instead.

Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke hit out at Mr Morrison’s weekly briefings on Monday, accusing him of being a ”part-time” minister.

”Its not good enough to simply turn up once a week,” he told reporters in Sydney. ”The Australian people deserve a full-time government.”

News of the latest boat also comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott travels to Indonesia, his first overseas trip since winning government.

Mr Abbott is going to Indonesia with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Andrew Robb and a delegation of 20 business leaders.

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