Australia searches for 'hijacked' refugee boat

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The Independent Online

Indonesia and Australia were searching last night for a commercial vessel said to have been hijacked by about 170 Iraqi asylum-seekers earlier this week and believed to be heading to Australia.

Indonesia and Australia were searching last night for a commercial vessel said to have been hijacked by about 170 Iraqi asylum-seekers earlier this week and believed to be heading to Australia.

An Indonesian navy spokesman said three warships had been dedicated to the search, but he believed the vessel would be difficult to find. "There has been no progress. It's a normal type of fishing boat made from wood," he said. At least one crew member had abandoned the ship.

Australia, battling rising numbers of illegal entrants, said it was also searching for the vessel but was not convinced it had been hijacked. The Australian authorities are also trying to find another boat, believed to be carrying between 150 and 200 people, heading from Indonesia towards Australian waters.

The hijacking marks another episode in a growing crisis over thousands of Middle Eastern and Afghan asylum-seekers who embark on the dangerous sea journey from Indonesia each year. Australia is spending millions of dollars housing and transporting asylum-seekers to South Pacific islands.

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