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Australian navy passengers people from sinking ship

world Updated: Nov 21, 2008 15:15 IST

The Australian navy has rescued a group of suspected asylum-seekers found drifting off the country's northwest coast, plucking them to safety from their fast sinking ship, officials said.

The 12 passengers and crew of unknown nationality were picked up yesterday as their stricken vessel lay stranded about 80 nautical miles southeast of Ashmore Reef, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said.

"The boat's engine was unserviceable, an irreparable hole was located in the hull and the vessel was flooding fast and sinking," Senator Evans said in a statement late Thursday.

"The group was taken on board the Navy patrol boat as a safety of life at sea situation, and given food and water. As always, the health and well-being of the people is our primary concern," he said.

The 12 were being taken to an offshore immigration processing centre, he added.

Boat people intercepted en route to Australia now have their claims processed on remote Christmas Island, despite complaints from human rights activists that they should be processed on the mainland like all other asylum-seekers.

The island, which lies between Indonesia and Australia in waters off Western Australia state, was excised from Australia's migration zone in 2001 in a bid to deter people-smugglers.

It was not known whether the latest group would seek asylum but Evans said that the incident highlighted the need for border patrols.

"Although this group is yet to make its intentions clear, there is constant pressure from people smugglers in the region," he said.