1 Nov 2009

Uncertain where Tamil asylum seekers began journey

5:04 pm on 1 November 2009

There are questions over where 78 asylum seekers on an Australian customs vessel anchored off the Indonesian island of Bintan began their journey.

It was earlier believed the group of ethnic Tamils had recently fled the civil war in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankans on the Oceanic Viking told reporters they lived in Indonesia for five years before trying to reach Australia, the ABC reports.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says he cannot confirm if the asylum seekers spent the last few years in Indonesia and that is best determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Asylum seekers well treated

The asylum seekers say they have been well treated but will not get off the ship until they are allowed to come to Australia.

The group has been on board the Oceanic Viking for the past two weeks and what started as a sea rescue has become a standoff between the asylum seekers and the Indonesian government.

The Oceanic Viking remains anchored off the coast of the Indonesian island of Bintan

as the government tries to convince the Tamils to leave the ship for detention in Indonesia.

But in messages tossed overboard, the group continued to ask to go to Australia, or if not, be given asylum in a country such as New Zealand.

With fresh crew and supplies on board, the Australian ship looks like it is preparing to stay in Indonesian waters for some time yet.