Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Getty Images
PRIME Minister Tony Abbott won't say whether a lifeboat pictured aground in Indonesia was used by Australian authorities to send back asylum seekers.
The sophisticated orange lifeboat was discovered by Indonesian authorities on the west coast of Java and was reportedly carrying about 60 asylum seekers.
The boat is one of 11 purchased by the Abbott government in a bid to stop asylum seekers from reaching Australia.
He has described pictures of a lifeboat aground in Indonesia as ''rather arresting''.
Operation Sovereign Borders commander Angus Campbell confirmed the purchase of lifeboats in mid-January but declined to say how they would be used.
When asked about the report, Mr Abbott said the government's border protection policies were helping stop the flow of asylum seeker boats.
He made reference to a prospective asylum seeker quoted in the report as saying the passage to Australia was now closed.
''Well, thank you sir, the way is closed … and as far as this government is concerned, never ever will it be reopened,'' he told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday.
The orange lifeboats can carry up to 90 passengers and are airconditioned, fitted with safety and navigational equipment and stocked with food and water.
It is claimed the pod-like vessel had been transporting about 60 asylum seekers, who scattered into the Indonesian jungle when the vessel came ashore.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment about the lifeboats, saying the government would not provide details about operational matters related to border security.
Mr Morrison has previously refused to confirm reports the government was planning to buy 16 hard-hulled lifeboats to combat the practice of asylum seekers sabotaging old fishing boats at sea.
The development alarmed Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who expressed concern Australia could be going further than turning boats back by potentially facilitating the movement of asylum seekers.