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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Passengers on the run in Australia's crocodile-infested rainforest after 'illegal ship' runs aground

A search is under way for dozens of people in Queensland after an apparently illegal boat ran aground 

It is thought a boat that ran aground on the island may have been asylum seekers. AFP Photo
It is thought a boat that ran aground on the island may have been asylum seekers. AFP Photo

Dozens of people were believed to be on the run on Monday in an Australian rainforest after their suspected illegal fishing boat ran aground in crocodile-infested waters.

The Australian Border Force said a "number of potential unlawful non-citizens" were located, but did not reveal their country of origin or whether they were fishermen or asylum seekers.

Locals say they saw people fleeing into the forest after their vessel ran aground near Daintree River in the tropical far north of Queensland state on Sunday.

Media reports said they may be from Vietnam, although a marine rescue official told broadcaster ABC it was an Indonesian boat.

Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation 15 people had been detained so far. Brisbane's Courier Mail said up to 20 others may still be within the dense terrain.

The ancient Daintree rainforest – 120 kilometres north of Cairns – is home to crocodiles, snakes and the giant cassowary flightless bird, one of the world's deadliest due to its aggressiveness.

State Emergency Service area controller Peter Rinaudo said his crews were searching through the mangroves and near the mouth of the river.

Police search tourist vehicles for missing asylum seekers at the Daintree River ferry crossing in Queensland, Australia, on August 27, 2018. EPA Photo
Police search tourist vehicles for missing asylum seekers at the Daintree River ferry crossing in Queensland, Australia, on August 27, 2018. EPA Photo

"It'll be a hard slog, it's still quite warm in there and it'll be tough conditions for the guys," he told national broadcaster ABC.

"I hope the people, however many there are, get located – it's not a nice area for them to be in."

Former Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg tweeted on Monday that Vietnamese fishing boats "have been illegally fishing in fleets" off the far north Queensland coast in the past two years due to their own depleted fishing stocks.

"Possible the Daintree vessel & crew have used this activity as a staging point to make Oz landfall & avoid returning to VN [Vietnam]," he added.

If the boat were carrying asylum seekers, it would be the first time in four years that such a vessel has reached Australian shores.

Asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are either turned back or sent to remote Pacific camps, where conditions have been widely criticised.

They are blocked from resettling in Australia.

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