SYDNEY – Australian police charged a man with people smuggling Thursday in connection with a deadly boat crash on a remote island that killed 48 asylum seekers.
The 40-year-old Iranian-born, Australian citizen was deported from Indonesia to Australia on Thursday and charged with multiple counts of people smuggling, Australian Federal Police said in a statement. If convicted of all charges, he could face life in prison.
Three other men were charged in January and are awaiting trial over the deadly crash, in which a rickety, wooden boat carrying Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish asylum seekers smashed into cliffs along Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
Forty-two people were rescued from churning surf after the boat broke apart on Dec. 15 on the rugged island, where the Australian government has an immigration detention center. The bodies of 30 victims were recovered, but government officials estimate another 18 people also died.
Officials did not release the name of the man charged Thursday. The charges against him relate mainly to the Christmas Island crash, but are also connected to several other people smuggling operations, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said.
"Those people who seek to lure, in some cases, people who are desperate, into unseaworthy vessels where people's lives are at risk, where people perish, will be punished," O'Connor told reporters in Canberra.
Asylum seekers hoping to start new lives after escaping from poor, war-ravaged countries have made Australia one of their top destinations in recent years. Many come from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran and fly first to Indonesia, where they board rickety, jam-packed boats that attempt to carry them the rest of the way.
Asylum seekers who are intercepted by officials are generally sent to the Christmas Island detention center, or detention centers on the Australian mainland.