x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

194 found in boat off Australian coast

Australian authorities intercept a boat carrying 194 suspected asylum seekers, the largest of the 15 boats of people detained in Australian waters this year.

Australian authorities have intercepted a boat in the Indian Ocean carrying 194 suspected asylum seekers, an official said, as the political opposition accused the government of being too soft on immigration. It is the largest of the 15 boats of asylum seekers detained in Australian waters so far this year. The nationalities of those on board the latest was not immediately clear. The vessel was spotted on Friday by a surveillance aircraft and intercepted today by a Navy ship operating under the control of the Border Protection Command, about 23 nautical miles (43 kilometres) northwest of Christmas Island, the home affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said in a statement.

The island, an Australian territory, holds an 800-bed detention centre where refugee applicants are held. Mr O'Connor said the ship and its occupants were being escorted to the island for health, security, identity and other checks. The island is located about 2,600km northwest of the Australia's western coast. Australia has long been a destination for people from poor, often war-ravaged countries hoping to start a new life. Most of the latest asylum seekers have come from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka.