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Australia stops boat carrying 83 asylum seekers

world Updated: Sep 12, 2009 12:08 IST

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A boat carrying 83 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted today off Australia's northwest coast after being spotted from the air by a military patrol plane,officials said.

The vessel was spotted around midnight about 80 nautical miles south of Ashmore Island and initially appeared to be in distress, said Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor.

"The people on board the vessel are safe and have indicated that they wish to come to Australia," he said.

"Initial indications suggest 83 passengers and four crew are on board."

It is the 20th illegal vessel to be stopped this year.

A small boat carrying seven suspected refugees was found in the same area on Monday.

And a wooden boat carrying 56 Afghan migrants was intercepted by Indonesian officials yesterday as it made its
way to Australia, with one claiming he had paid 7,000 dollars to a Jakarta middleman for the trip.

Over 1,000 would-be refugees have landed in Australia this year and the government has warned that there were
thousands more waiting in Indonesia, a key staging post for people smugglers.

More than 1,000 migrants from countries including Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have been
caught there since November last year.

O'Connor said international unrest was to blame for the surge in boat numbers, and not a softer refugee policy, as
claimed by the conservative opposition.