SYDNEY (DPA) — The Australian government Tuesday threw a veil of secrecy over a wooden boat believed to be carrying refugees from Vietnam spotted 70 kilometres off the north-western coast, a media report said.
The boat was seen by a passing tanker Monday and then by a police search plane dispatched from Western Australia before a navy vessel took control of the operation, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government would not comment on "operational matters on the water."
Abbott would not reveal anything about the fate of the vessel or those on board, and repeated his determination to stop people coming to Australia "illegally by boat."
"If any, by hook or by crook, actually get here, they will never get permanent residency in this country," Abbott said.
"As long as anyone thinks that by coming here by boat, they will get the great prize of permanent residency here in Australia, the evil, dangerous, deadly trade of people smuggling will continue," he said.
Lawyers assisting asylum seekers said they believed those on board the boat to be Vietnamese, although it was not clear how many were on board or their destination.
In April, the navy returned 46 Vietnamese to their country. Australian officials say Vietnam has agreed there would be no retribution for their illegal departure from Vietnam.
Refugee Action Coalition coordinator Ian Rintoul told the Sydney Morning Herald the people on board should be brought ashore and allowed to apply for asylum.
He said some of the boat people returned to Vietnam in April were still in jail, according to information from the Vietnamese community in Australia.
"The secrecy that the government seeks to impose on [a] so-called operational matter is designed to prevent scrutiny of the abuse of asylum seekers' human rights," Rintoul said.
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