Twenty eight asylum seekers attempting to migrate to Australia illegally and stranded in international waters were rescued and handed over to the Navy yesterday. Navy Spokesperson Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said the group had been rescued by a merchant ship after their boat was wrecked at sea, 300 nautical miles off South Eastern Sri Lanka.
Speaking to Ceylon Today Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya said the group of asylum seekers had left Sri Lanka on 18 July from Valachchenei, and their boat had stalled, stranding them in International waters.
The rescue was carried out by a 300-metre-long French supertanker, ‘MT Felemine’. It had been passing by when they received the message from the Sri Lankan Navy, which had sent out the message to all ships passing by, as they were too far out to carry out the rescue, he said.
Later, the group has been handed over to the Navy ship ‘Samudura’ 20 nautical miles south of Galle. The group of asylum seekers had in their possession a satellite phone, which they had used to send out the distress calls to an Australian contact. The Australian authorities had subsequently informed the Sri Lankan authorities, Brigadier Wanigasuriya said.
The group consisted of 23 males, two females and one child and two of the males are Muslims. He said the group of asylum seekers had been brought to the Galle Harbour at around 7.00 a.m. yesterday. Some Australian journalists who were in Colombo were also sent to witness the transfer.
He added after initial inquiries, the group will be handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department. The arrested persons are residents of Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Batticaloa, Vavuniya and Wellawatte. (CN)