People smuggler ‘in custody’

Authorities have taken a notorious people smuggler discovered travelling with a group of Tamil asylum seekers stranded in Indonesia into custody, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says.

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Abraham Lauhenaspessy, known as Captain Bram, is said to have been paid by the 254 Tamils on board the vessel to bring them to Christmas Island, Fairfax newspapers report.

He is described as having emerged as “a pivotal organiser of Indonesia’s people-smuggling operations in 1999” and is said to have brought 1,500 asylum seekers to Australia illegally.

“Abraham… has been taken into custody by Indonesian authorities,” Mr Smith told ABC Radio on Monday, confirming the people smuggler was on the boat carrying the Tamils.

“He is, of course, someone who has previously been convicted of people smuggling offences and well known to Australian and Indonesian authorities.”

It would be a matter for Indonesia authorities to progress the matter, Mr Smith said.

Asylum seekers rescued

“Let’s not leap to any conclusions.”

Mr Smith will accompany Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Jakarta later on Monday for the inauguration of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was re-elected earlier this year.

Ministers and officials from both nations are expected to discuss ways of stemming the influx of asylum seekers into Australian waters.

Meanwhile, a group of asylum seekers has been transferred to an Australian naval vessel after they reported their boat being in distress off the coast of Indonesia.

The boat had been intercepted by HMAS Armidale on Sunday afternoon about 296 nautical miles north-northwest of Christmas Island, after Indonesian search and rescue authorities sought Australian assistance.

Another boat intercepted

“Those people have now been placed onboard the HMAS Viking which was in the area,” Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told ABC Radio.

Australian officials are in discussion with Indonesia authorities “as the safest place to take those people”.

Mr Smith would not say whether that would be Australia or Indonesia.

On Sunday night, authorities intercepted another boatload of suspected asylum seekers off Ashmore Island, the 33rd for the year.

There are thought to be 39 passengers and three crew aboard the vessel.

The group will be transferred to Christmas Island, which has had its facilities extended to cope with the growing numbers of asylum seekers.


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