Second asylum boat forced back to sea
23 April 2003 6:16am (AEST)
A second vessel carrying dozens of Vietnamese people has been in Indonesian waters in the past week and is believed to be headed for Australia, Indonesian officials say.
The Indonesian Government earlier signalled it would not detain a separate overloaded boat that was forced back to sea over the weekend.
The Indonesian Government says it has no legal obligation to block the voyage of the poorly equipped and overcrowded boat that was resupplied then sent away from Banjarmasin port carrying 42 Vietnamese passengers.
Now port authorities in Riau province say a second boat carrying about 30 Vietnamese boatpeople was provisioned in the Indonesian port of Tanjungpinang, near Singapore, a week ago.
It too was forced back to sea.
It is believed that boat is now moored off a smaller island in the same province.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Immigation Department says it cannot confirm the report of a second boat heading for Australian waters.
She says Coastwatch is also unable to confirm the presence of a second boat.
Australia and Indonesia have exchanged opinions on how the renewal of attempted voyages to Australia should be dealt with.
A former long-term Australian diplomat says the Government's handling of the latest boat departures shows it has learnt nothing since the drowning of 353 asylum seekers less than two years ago.
Tony Kevin is a former diplomat to Cambodia and Poland and now a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.
He says he is concerned the Government is taking the same approach it did in 2001, when hundreds of asylum seekers drowned after the sinking of the vessel known as Siev X.
"This Government has learnt nothing," Mr Kevin said.
He says the latest Vietnamese asylum-seekers could be headed for the same fate as those on Siev X.
Mr Kevin says he is distressed by the Government's conviction that the boat is unlikely to make it to Australia.
"I very much fear for the safety of the people on board this boat," he said.
The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has accused Mr Kevin of being obsessed with the Siev X case.
Mr Ruddock says authorities would intervene if the boat struck difficulty in Australian waters but the Government will not allow the vessel to reach the nation's shores.
Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett believes there is a similarity between the new boat and Siev X.
"The clear similarity is that there's no concern from the Australian Government for the wellbeing of the people on this boat," Senator Bartlett said.
"The fundamental focus needs to be on ensuring the people on this boat manage to survive."
The Government says if the boat is headed for Australia and reaches the Timor Sea, it will either be turned back or its passengers will be processed in an off-shore detention centre.
The new departures come just days before Australia and Indonesia are due to host a conference on people smuggling in Bali.