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Australia: Life-jackets wash up unexplained

27 May 2013, 16:26

Sydney - Australian police said on Monday 28 life-jackets had washed up on a beach in the Cocos Islands, but there was no specific incident they could link them to and no search was under way.

The life-jackets, found on the Indian Ocean territory off Western Australia on Friday, had sparked fears that asylum-seekers may once again have drowned en route to Australia.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) initially said that eight life-jackets were found but later updated this number to 28. The police would not immediately confirm a report that one contained a small amount of Iranian currency.

"The AFP can confirm that a total of 28 life-jackets have been found on Cocos Islands," a spokesperson said late on Monday.

The AFP said it was common for debris and other items to wash up on the east coast of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, including from Indonesia, which is about 1 100km away and closer than the Australian mainland.

It said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has confirmed "there is no specific incident they can relate to these life-jackets".

Too valuable to throw overboard

"Consequently, there is no search and rescue operation in the Cocos [Keeling] Islands area."

But Ian Rintoul, from the asylum-seeker support group Refugee Action Coalition, called on Australian authorities to say whether they had searched areas near the islands in recent days.

"The existence of the life-jackets themselves are an indication that there has been some kind of incident," he said.

"And it almost definitely means that a boat has gone down for those life-jackets [to be found]. They are not likely to have been thrown overboard... they are quite expensive, and they are too valuable."

Rintoul said the life-jackets most likely came from an asylum-seeker boat.

"It's far more than likely that they are a consequence of some kind of distress situation and a boat going down somewhere," Rintoul said.

More than 10 000 arrivals

Hundreds of asylum-seekers have drowned at sea over the past few years while trying to reach Australia, mostly via Indonesia.

Canberra has attempted to crack down on people-smuggling by sending boat passengers to remote processing stations on the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru and impoverished Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

However, more than 10 000 people have arrived in Australia this year alone, many from Iran and Afghanistan.



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