News24

Sri Lanka seeks help to track trawler

2012-10-22 21:12

Colombo - Sri Lanka's police sought help on Monday from Interpol to track down a fishing trawler stolen by its own crew in a bid to illegally transport asylum seekers to Australia.

A magistrate issued arrest warrants against the skipper and 13 others who staged a hijacking last week to try to cover up the theft of the boat and use it in the highly lucrative people-smuggling business, a police statement said.

"Police today sought the assistance of Interpol to execute the arrest warrants against the 14 individuals involved in the robbery of the trawler on 14 October," the statement said.

Police told the magistrate that the skipper of the trawler had stolen the vessel from its owner before taking on board another 10 people in a suspected journey to Australia.

Two out of the six crewmen who were later found bobbing in the water off the island's southern coast gave conflicting accounts of the events and are being detained for questioning.

The pair had initially told police that the trawler had been attacked by about 40 suspected illegal immigrants carrying swords, who arrived in four small boats and overpowered the crew.

More missing

Police said two other trawlers had also been reported missing off the island's southern region since 2 October and they too could have been stolen for people-smuggling.

Sri Lankan authorities say they have detained over 1 000 people who have tried to leave for Australia illegally this year.

Australia hopes the prospect of years in detention on remote Pacific islands will deter asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous sea voyage, which has cost hundreds of lives over the past decade.

Sri Lankans pay up to $3 000 for a place on trawlers which take around two weeks to make the treacherous crossing to Australia.