JAKARTA (AFP) – Police detained four Indonesians allegedly involved in arranging an Australian-bound refugee boat which sank earlier this week, killing at least 15 people, a local police official said on Saturday.
The four men were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday in two nearby cities after the boat sank off the southwestern coast of Java island Tuesday, killing among them six children and a pregnant woman, the Cianjur city police chief Dedy Kusuma Bakti said.
"The four helped arrange the boat trip. They are part of a people smuggling syndicate. Some of them had organised several boat trips to Australia," he said, adding that they could be charged with people smuggling which carries a jail sentence of between five and 15 years under the country's immigration law.
The number on the overloaded boat was unclear. Police have said around 200 were aboard, but an asylum-seeker has said 250 people made the perilous journey.
Rescuers have saved 189 asylum seekers which included Iranians and Sri Lankans and the search effort continued Saturday, rescue operation chief Rochmali, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said.
Australian authorities alerted Indonesia of the incident Tuesday evening, just days after Canberra announced that asylum-seekers who arrive by boat would no longer be resettled in Australia even if they secure refugee status.
An AFP reporter who spoke to survivors on Wednesday said one group of 38, including women and children, had swum in darkness for up to four hours in high seas to reach the shore Tuesday night. prm/lv/jta