ROTE NDAO, Indonesia (AP) — The captain of a people-smuggling boat who says he was paid by Australian authorities to return the migrants to Indonesia has described a terrifying ordeal on the voyage back.
The Indonesian captain, Johanes Humiang, said in an interview that his boat was seized by Australian authorities, who after interrogations and the offer of money transferred the crew and 65 migrants to two smaller vessels with insufficient fuel and food.
The allegation of payments to people smugglers has strained relations between Indonesia and Australia, which has a policy of turning back migrants who arrive by boat. Migrants escaping poverty or oppression use Indonesia as a transit point for the perilous journey in often barely seaworthy vessels to Australia.
Humiang, who is being held by Indonesian police on Rote island in central Java, said there was an "emergency" at sea after one of the boats provided by Australia, Kanak, ran out fuel, causing panic among the mostly Sri Lanka migrants. The voyage continued after the crew transferred the people on Kanak to the second boat, Jasmine.
"The fuel was not enough," he said. "We had to complete our journey back to Indonesia with a single boat and finally stranded."
"The migrants started fighting," Humiang said. "The situation changed drastically and was frightening. I thought they would kill each other."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has sidestepped questions about the May incident. He has said Australian authorities are being "incredibly creative" in their response to human trafficking. Indonesian officials have said payments to people smugglers would amount to bribery and could encourage trafficking.
The initial report from police said the captain and five crew members were paid a total of about $30,000. Steven Ivan Worotijan, a crew member who was also interviewed Wednesday, said the total was $31,000, with the captain receiving $6,000 from an Australian navy officer and each of the crew $5,000.
Humiang said the money paid to him and the crew was double what they would have earned if their boat wasn't intercepted.