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Indonesia Locates Asylum-seekers' Ship - 2001-10-29

Indonesian authorities have located a ship that had been feared hijacked by asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia. It is the latest incident in the continuing problem of asylum-seekers who use Indonesia as a transit point.

Indonesian authorities say they will prevent the boatload of asylum seekers from trying to set sail for Australia again.

The 50-meter ship, the Sinar Bontang, set sail from Sulawesi island last week.

Authorities found the boat Sunday off a small island 1,300 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital.

The boat had suffered engine trouble and had been adrift at sea for days. One crew member who had abandoned the ship alleged that the asylum seekers had hijacked it. Local officials have largely dismissed that claim as unlikely.

The problem of asylum-seekers, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq, continues to plague Indonesian authorities.

The asylum-seekers come to Indonesia where they pay people-smugglers for passage to Australia. Ten days ago, at least 350 died when the boat they were in sank in Indonesian waters.

Richard Danziger of the International Organization of Migration estimates that at least eight ships carrying asylum seekers have left Indonesia for Australia since August. But Mr. Danziger said his agency does not know whether the people smugglers follow a specific pattern. "It's difficult to say, it's difficult to really guess how the smugglers are trying to make their decision to try to get people on a boat at any given time," Danziger continued. "I couldn't really answer how boats are on their way or are being prepared."

Mr. Danziger said the smugglers' efforts are failing because Australia has stepped up its patrols for the illegal ships. "I get the feeling they're not too worried about tides and winds and safety," he said. "It's a matter of whether people are getting through. But, of course, no boat is getting through right now."

Police in the capital Jakarta Monday used force to remove roughly 100 asylum seekers from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, where they had been camped out since Friday.

Some of the asylum-seekers say they have qualified as legitimate refugees, and are entitled to resettlement in another country.