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Navy to rescue sinking boats

October 18, 2009

AAP : Navy on standby to help refugee boats
The Australian navy is on standby to assist in the rescue of two boats in distress and possibly loaded with asylum seekers off the Indonesian coast.

Hundreds of people believed to be heading to Australia are reportedly aboard the vessels, but there is no confirmation at this stage that they are asylum seekers.

A rescue operation is under way to help the roughly 270 people on board the two boats. The operation is being led by search and rescue authorities from Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Australian government has been briefed on the situation and will provide assistance if and when required, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection Agency told AAP late on Saturday.

The spokesman said the HMAS Armidale is in the region and could provide help if and when a request is made.

Navy officials are awaiting further confirmation of the two boat emergencies from Malaysia and Indonesia.

“We’re aware of the reports but we have no indication of the people who may be on board these vessels at this time,” the spokesman said.

One of the boats was reportedly sinking in Malaysian waters, the Nine Network said on Saturday.

The second boat was spotted off the coast of Indonesia.

The situation unfolds as a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers in west Java have ended their hunger strike.

A boatload of more than 250 ethnic Tamils had refused to leave their boat during the past week, while making emotional pleas for Australia to take them in.

The boat had been intercepted by the Indonesian navy en route to Australia and taken to the Javanese port city of Merak.

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