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23 February 2007
According to a recent press release, on 19 February 2007, the Australian government intercepted a boat containing 85 men trying to illegally enter the country. The boat was spotted about 50 nautical miles off of Christmas Island by an Orion P3 aircraft.
The boat was later intercepted in the early hours of 20 February by HMAS Success, an Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment vessel.
The passengers of the boat identified themselves as Sri Lankan nationals and that their intention was to reach Christmas Island. The boat was subsequently determined to be unseaworthy and the passengers agreed to come aboard the Success.
The government initially stated that their concern was only for their health and well-being and decided to keep the men aboard the Success until they could determine more details.
In a later press conference, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews stated that some indicated a desire to seek asylum in the country but that no formal requests were made because they were still being kept on the Success. He also stated that that two of the men claimed they were Indonesian.
Asked how long the men would remain on the naval ship, Andrews responded, "It's not going to be forever, obviously, because the Success has got other work to do. It obviously got adequate supplies but it's not our aim to keep them on the Success in the middle of the Indian Ocean for longer than is necessary."
Andrews stated that one destination being considered was Nauru, a tiny island nation northeast of the Australian mainland.
In Australian government policy called the "Pacific Solution", instituted in 2001 by former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, asylum seekers are diverted to detention camps on small islands in the Pacific Ocean rather than the Australian mainland.
"...it is our intention that they do not come to mainland Australia for a number of reasons. One is that we do not want to encourage this sort of behavior of people being put on unseaworthy vessels out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, as a tragedy that could come from that," said Andrews.
"I think it would be irresponsible to be sending a boatload of people on a small vessel which has proven one way or the other to be unseaworthy out in the middle of the ocean and we specifically do not want to encourage that sort of activity."
"This is Australian Government policy in practice."