24 Jan 2010

More asylum seeker boats in Australian waters

1:00 pm on 24 January 2010

Two more boatloads of asylum seekers have been intercepted off the north coast of Western Australia since Friday.

They were carrying about 70 people.

In a statement, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said HMAS Ararat intercepted a boat late on Friday afternoon near West Islet at Ashmore Reef. It was believed to have 29 passengers and four crew.

HMAS Bathurst intercepted another boat one nautical mile north of Christmas Island early on Saturday. It was believed to have 38 passengers and two crew.

The two groups will be taken to Christmas Island for processing.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says 19 boats have arrived so far this summer.

Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott said on Friday night that asylum seekers must be deterred from trying to reach Australia by boat as "a matter of principle", regardless of how many immigrants Australia can take.

Mr Abbott said Australia could not be perceived as being a "soft touch" against border protection and the government must send a "strong message" to deter asylum seekers who arrive by boat.