Australian navy helping stricken refugee boat

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 20, 2013 12:56 AM

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's navy began rescuing 105 people from a crowded asylum-seeker boat on Tuesday after it ran into difficulties about 120 nautical miles north of Australia's Christmas Island territory in the Indian Ocean.

The rescue comes in the middle of Australia's campaign for the September 7 election, where border protection and tough policies to deter asylum seekers are important issues.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it received the call for help from someone aboard the boat early on Tuesday.

The Australian navy's HMAS Parramatta had since arrived at the scene and was conducting a rescue operation after reporting the boat had foundered, AMSA said. There were no reports of fatalities.

Christmas Island is a frequent destination for refugee boats from Indonesia, and a favored route for people-smugglers.

More than 18,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian territory since January, prompting Australia to announce all new boat arrivals will be sent to Papua New Guinea or the Pacific island nation of Nauru for processing and resettlement if their refugee claims are accepted.

Since 2001, around 1,000 people have died while trying to reach Christmas Island by boat.

(Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Ron Popeski)