Scott Morrison will not confirm claims a boat of asylum seekers is in trouble off the coast of Christmas Island. Photo: Andrew Meares
The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to confirm claims by refugee activists that a boat carrying Tamil asylum seekers off the coast of Christmas Island is in trouble.
Refugee activists said the 21m boat carrying 153 asylum seekers, which left from India, had sprung an oil leak and was 250km from Christmas Island.
Mr Morrison said there were no significant incidents at sea to report.‘‘I am advised that I have no such report to provide to you today,’’ he told reporters in Melbourne.
But a man claiming to be aboard the boat told Fairfax Media via satellite phone: “We are experiencing huge waves and very bad conditions. We are very afraid and at threat. We have only three litres of water left. We can only manage for today, and tomorrow we will have nothing to drink.”
The man said the group are all refugees from northern Sri Lanka – mainly the war-effected cities of Jaffna and Mullitivu - who had sought refuge in south India before leaving for Australia on June 13. Since then they have been subsisting mainly on biscuits and milk.
He said two of the children on board, one aged 3 months and the other two years, “are sick with vomiting, fever and headaches. They vomit up the milk and biscuits.”
The man put their position at “about 175 miles from Christmas Island". He said they had received assistance from some Indonesian fishing boats, but had not yet spotted any Australian navy ships. “The wind is increasing,” said the man. “It is a very difficult situation, sir.”
The refugees' vessel, a 72-foot blue hulled fishing boat, is said to be carrying 37 children and 32 women. According to refugee advocate Ian Rintoul, it has a leak in the oil pipe supplying the engine. “They are only travelling very slowly, about 100km a day,” he said. “They are very anxious, and they aren’t sure they will be able to make it to Christmas Island without assistance.”
“What we are concerned about is that the Australian government will try to get a commercial boat from the area to try to pick them up,” said Rintoul. “They did that in the Indian ocean last year, but that boat was much further away from Australia than this one. They need assistance now, before it becomes an emergency.”
Last night Mr Abbott dismissed questions from the ABC about the boat, saying "we will be doing what we normally do in respect of Operation Sovereign Borders".
He would not say whether assistance would be sent to the vessel.