Police have detained 15 out of the 17 people believed to have been on board a boat that ran aground on the morning of Aug. 26 in the Daintree River in far north Queensland.
“I understand that 15 people have been now detained on behalf of the Australian Border Force (ABF) and they will be assessed by the Australian Border Force and dealt with in accordance with Australian law,” Queensland Police Minister, Mark Ryan, told reporters on Aug. 26.
“Australia has received the first people-smuggling venture in over 1,400 days,” he said on Aug. 27, SBS reported.
Dutton said the 15 detained will be deported from Australia “at the first available opportunity.”
“The arrival of this boat should be a very clear and timely message that people smugglers will seek to put people on to boats, to take money from innocent men, women and children and to send them to our country,” Dutton said, SBS reported.
The newly appointed defence industry minister, Steve Ciobo, said on Aug. 27 those detained should be sent to “somewhere offshore” for processing.
“Those people if we can find them, they should be taken into custody, so to speak, and they should be sent to Nauru,” Ciobo told Sky News on Aug. 27.
On Aug. 26, locals saw people abandoning a boat and running into a rainforest near Cape Kimberley, an area known for its crocodile-infested waters. The local witnesses notified border police, according to reports.
Initially, the number of those that fled from the wrecked vessel was not known, but according to the ABC, at least 17 are believed to have been on board.
Accompanied by a dog squad, ABF officials, Queensland police, and the State Emergency Service (SES) continue to search for the missing two, saying their top priority is human safety, the ABC reported.
“It’s very difficult terrain out there, I’d hate to be staying out there for a second night,” Northern Region Assistant Commissioner Paul Taylor said, according to reports.
According to David White, a tour operator who has been guiding people through the Daintree River for 20 years, there is little risk of harm to the missing two who have fled—unless they enter the water.
“There is no risk if they don’t go into the water,” White said, the ABC reported. “There are crocodiles in the river but not hundreds of them, just one or two.”
Police have erected roadblocks and are checking cars and caravans for possible stowaways at the Daintree River ferry crossing.
The Department of Home Affairs has not responded to requests for comment on whether the ones detained are Vietnamese, according to The Guardian.
A former ABF official Roman Quaedvlieg said that it is not uncommon to have Vietnamese asylum seekers come to a remote area of Australia’s shores.
It’s not unusual for Vietnamese asylum seekers to target a remote part of the Australian Coast. It’s relatively easy to do; but most don’t get far once landed due to the hostility and are soon detained or give themselves up quickly. Their asylum claims fail in the majority.
— Roman Quaedvlieg (@quaedvliegs) August 26, 2018
Meanwhile, two local fishermen found two Vietnamese men in the mangroves of far north Queensland.
Peter Ward, one of the fishermen, said he found the two men on the banks of the Daintree river—not far from where the boat ran aground, the Australian reported.
They talked with the Vietnamese men, who barely spoke English, and later went crab fishing together, before the fishermen told the Vietnamese men they would be sent to authorities.
“We apologised—‘This is it, this is your last chance of freedom,’” Ward told the Australian.