Boat With 77 People Intercepted By Australia

Boat With 77 People Intercepted by Australia

Published: August 12, 2009
Filed at 8:06 p.m. ET

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — A boat carrying 77 suspected asylum seekers was intercepted Thursday in the Indian Ocean, the latest in a string of such vessels caught in Australian waters this year.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said in a statement that the vessel was stopped at 2 a.m. just 21 nautical miles north of Christmas Island, an Australian territory 1,600 miles (2575 kilometers) northwest of the mainland, just south of Indonesia.

''The group will be transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo security, identity and health checks as well as establish their reasons for travel,'' O'Connor said.

Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Australia has long been a destination for people from poor, often war-ravaged countries hoping to start a new life. Most of the asylum seekers have come from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka.

The recent rise in boat arrivals has stoked a political debate over immigration. Last year, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd relaxed the mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers and allowed full residency visas for those who are accepted as refugees, rather than temporary visas granted by the previous government.

The opposition says Rudd's decision has made Australia a more attractive destination for people smugglers and their clients.