A merchant vessel has had to provide assistance to a new boat of asylum seekers north of Cocos Islands tonight as a second boatload arrived on Christmas Island.
The merchant vessel moved to help the boat, believed to be carrying 27 people, about 173 nautical miles north west of Cocos Islands, Australia’s most westerly point of territory in the Indian Ocean.
The state of the asylum seeker boat is not known, but it follows a string of rescues.
The group is being transferred to the Cocos Islands, before they are taken to Christmas Island.
Meanwhile a group of 50 men and one boy are receiving medical checks on Christmas Island.
That group is believed to be Tamils, travelling from war-torn zones of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan authorities have arrested 131 would-be asylum seekers heading to Australia and seized a fishing trawler used for the people-smuggling operation.
The Sri Lankan navy detected the trawler off the island’s eastern coast on Saturday and it was being escorted to the port of Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of Colombo.
”The men on board were heading for Australia,” said a navy official, asking not to be named.
”We are handing over these people to the police for further investigations and necessary action.”
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said today that 22 other people thought to be preparing to leave the island illegally aboard a different trawler were also arrested on Saturday.
The number of Sri Lankans detained on charges of illegally trying to leave the country has reached more than 250 over the past week.
The latest arrests come after a number of vessels have sunk at sea as illegal immigrants head to Australia from various poverty-hit countries, including Sri Lanka.
Some 94 people are believed to have drowned after two boats sank in recent weeks.
While most asylum-seeker boats originate in Indonesia, there has been a recent spike in attempted crossings from Sri Lanka. (Herald Sun)