Ship Reroutes to Christmas Island Following Rescued Asylum Seekers' Threats

By MarEx 2012-08-16 12:02:08

A Singapore-bound merchant ship changed course for Australia after the captain felt that some asylum seekers he rescued off Indonesia posed a threat to his crew.

This news came in just before the Australian Senate passed new stricter laws regarding preventing asylum seekers, mainly from Asia and the Middle East, from making the risky trip over to Australian shores.

One asylum seeker fell overboard and apparently drowned before being rescued; the surviving 67 have been in an Australian immigration detention center since Tuesday, report the Associated Press. Under the recently passed regulations, they may be deported to tents camps in Papua New Guinea or other Pacific countries.

It is still unclear what exactly happened aboard the merchant ship in this instance. Witness accounts claim the captain felt the situation could turn dangerous and pose a threat to his crew if he didn't divert. Many have called for the asylum seekers, men only, to be charged with piracy for using threats to divert the ship.

Wallenius Marine, the Singapore-based operator of the rescue ship MV Parsifal, said the men were 44 miles south of the Indonesian island of Java in an overcrowded fishing vessel headed for Christmas Island, when they made a distress call to Australian rescue authorities. Officials notified all merchant shipping in the area, and the Parsifal, a Singapore-flagged Swedish-owned car carrier, was the first to respond. Obligated under maritime law to assist the distressed vessel, the captain then ordered his crew to continue to Singapore, the ship's planned destination.

Reportedly, once the rescued passengers found out their journey’s endpoint, they became aggressive and threatened self-harm. Concerned for the safety of his crew, the captain decided to turn around and head to Christmas Island. He also requested an Australian Navy patrol boat to escort the remainder of the ride.

The Parsifal is now back en route to Singapore and an official police investigation is underway.

Military reconnaissance teams were to fly to Papua New Guinea on Thursday and Nauru on Friday to plan the new detention camps. The first asylum seekers are to be sent to Nauru within one month.