Australian warship intercepts boatload of Sri Lankans

SYDNEY, Feb 22, 2007 (AFP) – An Australian warship has intercepted a boat carrying 85 Sri Lankans towards a Canberra-controlled island in the Indian Ocean, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said Thursday. Andrews said the unseaworthy vessel was intercepted about 50 nautical miles off Christmas Island on Tuesday, after being spotted a day earlier.

He said the passengers, all men, were transferred to the warship HMAS Success on Wednesday night because of concerns about the state of their boat.

Andrews did not say whether the men, described as “potential unauthorised arrivals”, were seeking asylum in Australia.

“The vessel was not engaged in any legitimate commercial activity,” he said in a statement, adding the men confirmed they had been heading to Christmas Island.

He said the men all appeared to be in good health.

It is the first group of boatpeople confronted by Australian authorities since 43 activists from Indonesia’s troubled West Papua province arrived in January last year, straining diplomatic ties between Jakarta and Canberra. Sri Lanka has been wracked by separatist violence for the past 25 years, with an upsurge in violence since December 2005 claiming nearly 4,000 lives