Australian navy blew up asylum boat: Indonesia police

CILACAP, Indonesia - Asylum-seekers who washed ashore in Indonesia have claimed the Australian navy blew up their vessel after forcing the would-be refugees into a lifeboat and turning them back to Java, police said Wednesday.

Indonesian police found the orange lifeboat and 26 asylum-seekers Monday on Java island's south coast. The would-be refugees said they were turned around attempting to reach the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

After setting off from the port of Pelabuhan Ratu in southern Java, they were intercepted by the Australian navy entering Australian waters and transferred to the lifeboat, police said.

Australia has purchased the lifeboats as part of its military-led operation to stem the influx of would-be refugees by returning them to Indonesia, a policy that has angered Jakarta.

After putting the asylum-seekers in the lifeboat, the navy destroyed their vessel, Wasidi, police spokesman in Kebumen district where the stranded boat was found, told AFP.

"After they transferred the migrants to the Australian ship, the wooden boat they took from Pelabuhan Ratu was then blown up by the Australian navy," said the spokesman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Wasidi said the boat's Indonesian crew, who have also been detained, had given him the accounts.

The Australian navy has previously faced accusations that its personnel verbally and physically abused asylum-seekers as it returned them to Indonesia, claims fiercely denied by Canberra.

The asylum-seekers that arrived this week, from countries including Iraq, Iran and Bangladesh, each paid 30 million rupiah ($2,850) for the voyage to Australia, said Wasidi, citing an account by the boat's captain.

Three of the asylum-seekers have escaped and the remaining 23 have been detained at an immigration detention centre in the town of Cilacap, on Java's south coast.

Monday's lifeboat arrival was the second this month, with asylum-seekers on the first also claiming they were put on the boat by the Australian navy and turned around.

As well as putting asylum-seekers into the lifeboats, similar to those carried by cruiseships, the Australian navy has also been turning round wooden boats when it is safe to do so.

Returned vessels are usually escorted towards Indonesian waters by the Australian navy.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers have died making the dangerous sea voyage from Indonesia to Australia in recent years.