Australia has appealed for international help in resolving the fate of more than 400 asylum seekers aboard a Norwegian freighter anchored off Australia's northwest coast. Several governments have indicated they would accept some of the migrants if they are determined to be refugees.
The Norwegian freighter Tampa remains stranded just inside Australian territorial waters near remote Christmas Island with as many as 460 asylum seekers on board.
Australia and Indonesia are still refusing to accept any of the migrants, and the ship's captain, Arne Rinnan, has refused Australian requests for him to move the ship back into international waters.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer early Friday raised the possibility of asking United Nations staff in East Timor to process the asylum-seekers' claims for refugee status. But he said it is an unlikely option because the fledgling nation has yet to install its first government. He went on to say, "They really don't have a formal government in place, that's not likely to be appointed until around September 15, so there are obviously some complications with East Timor."
Two other nations, Norway and New Zealand have indicated they are willing to consider taking some of the asylum seekers on board the Tampa if they are genuine refugees.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has also been trying to contact Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri to discuss the matter, but the president is yet to return his calls.
Australia has come under intense international criticism for its refusal to accept the asylum seekers. But Prime Minister Howard stresses Australia's stance won't damage its international reputation. "I mean when you are willing as we continue to be to take people on a per capita basis more generously than any country other than Canada, I don't think any charge can be made against us," he said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is preparing to discuss the matter in Geneva later Friday with diplomats from Australia, Indonesia and Norway.
The Norwegian freighter remains anchored in the Indian Ocean with Australia providing food and medicine. The ship rescued the asylum seekers late Sunday from a crippled Indonesian ferry that was illegally transporting the group to Australia.