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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
Tensions rise over refugee ship
Refugees on the Tampa
More than 400 refugees are on board the Tampa
Norway has reported Australia to the United Nations for refusing to allow a ship carrying more than 400 mainly Afghan refugees to land on its territory.

Refugee boat draws near the Tampa
The refugees were picked up on Sunday
Norwegian vessel the Tampa rescued the asylum seekers from their sinking ship off the coast of Indonesia on Sunday.

Australian SAS troops boarded the vessel after it defied orders to stay outside Australian territorial waters and headed towards Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland said the priority was to get emergency supplies to those on board and he urged Australia to stick to what he said was its international obligation.

Our opinion is that international law is on our side

Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland
Hundreds of men, women and children, from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, are crammed onto the ship's deck, and many are on hunger strike, says the captain of the ship which is designed to carry 40 people.

Australia has organised an operation to provide emergency food and medical supplies to the refugees, but it remains adamant in its refusal to allow the ship to dock.

Nobody is lacking in compassion with genuine refugees

Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Australian doctors who have seen those on board say only a handful needed medical attention.

Norway has also reported Australia to the Red Cross and other international bodies including the International Maritime Organisation.

Mr Jagland said the 1951 UN convention on refugees stated specifically that refugees rescued on the high seas be taken immediately to the nearest port and said Norway would continue to insist that Australia accept responsibility for the 438 refugees aboard the Norwegian vessel.

"Our opinion is that international law is on our side," he said.

Frosty reaction

But our correspondent says that is unlikely to worry the Australian Government which has dismissed previous criticism of its treatment of refugees by the UN.

The Norwegians have also objected to Australian troops taking control of the vessel.

The ship's owners have accused Australia of "piracy", saying it had no right to board the ship because it represents a sovereign territory of Norway.

The vessel is currently still off Christmas Island.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the troops had told the Tampa to head back to international waters, but he admitted the captain seems disinclined to move, which "creates, of course, a very serious situation".

Emergency legislation which the government wanted to use to turn away the cargo ship was defeated in the Australian Senate on Wednesday.

Three high-speed Australian navy boats carrying 60 Special Air Services troops intercepted the Tampa after it crossed the 12 nautical mile (22km) territorial limit.

Riot threat

Mr Howard said that the Tampa had entered Australian territorial waters despite an earlier undertaking not to do so if medical assistance was given.

"The SAS personnel on the vessel have put it to the captain that the appropriate thing would be for the captain to return to international waters," he said.

Australian troops
Australian troops head for the Tampa
Mr Howard, who described the situation as difficult and unprecedented, said: "Nobody is lacking in compassion with genuine refugees."

According to Australian officials, the soldiers are there to help coordinate efforts to bring food and medicine to those on board.

They are also there in case the crew needs protection, officials said.

The BBC's Michael Peschardt in Darwin says the Australian military has said control of the ship remains with the captain and crew, although there is little doubt the special forces would act should the vessel try to approach land.

The Tampa picked up the refugees, as the wooden Indonesian vessel carrying them was on the point of sinking.

They have demanded to be taken to Australia, but Australia says they should be returned to Indonesia.

After initially refusing to accept them, Indonesia said on Tuesday that it would allow the ship to land there.

But the refugees threatened to riot if the Tampa sailed out of sight of Christmas Island.

The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"There is little public sympathy"
The BBC's David Shukman
"International law is not very clear"
Australian Prime Minister John Howard
"The government had no alternative but to board and secure the vessel"
Guy Goodwin Gill, a specialist in refugee law
explains the legalities of the situation


The journey

Life in a foreign land

The way ahead


See also:

29 Aug 01 | South Asia
Why Afghans seek hope abroad
28 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia is refugees' goal
29 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian public back hard line
29 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Spotlight on maritime conventions
27 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tampa captain's tale of woe
13 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia condemns vigilantes
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia may take fewer refugees
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's detention camps criticised
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Boost for anti-immigrant party
22 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Immigrants riot in Australian camp
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