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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Australia seeks help over boat people
Australian special forces head for the Tampa on 29 August
The troops now on board are ready to move the ship
The Australian Government, facing increasing international pressure, is seeking ways to resolve the fate of more than 400 asylum seekers on board a Norwegian ship moored in Australian waters.

Refugees per 1,000 inhabitants
Australia: 3.16
Norway: 10.73
UK: 2.33
United States: 1.84
France: 2.20
Germany: 11.86
Switzerland: 11.14
Iran: 27.11
Source: UNHCR 1999
Prime Minister John Howard said discussions were under way with several countries to see if the migrants could be screened for refugee status elsewhere. He said he also hoped to talk to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri about the crisis.

But there is little sign of either Australia or Indonesia softening their stance.

Both countries have refused to accept the boat people, who were picked up by the cargo ship, the Tampa, on Sunday when their ferry began sinking.

Australian SAS troops boarded the Tampa on Wednesday, but the ship's captain has refused to sail back into international waters.

The Tampa is visible eight kilometres off the shore of Christmas Island, a tiny speck of Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

New count

On board, a new count has revealed there are about 30 more people than previously thought, bringing the total to 460, most of them Afghans.

Undated photo of Norwegian captain Arne Rinnan
The Tampa's captain is refusing to move
The refugees are sheltering in the containers and under tarpaulins on deck, and concern is growing about their welfare.

International aid agencies are lobbying the Australian Government for access to the asylum seekers.

At Christmas Island's airport, more soldiers and supplies are being ferried in. An Australian navy frigate is due there on Friday.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas, reporting from Christmas Island, says the asylum seekers' situation is becoming more miserable by the day.

And he says voices on the island are now being raised to suggest the Australian Government should extend some compassion and allow them to land.

Resolution sought

Mr Howard, who has made his determination clear that the migrants will not be allowed ashore, has briefed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the situation.

If we are just a pushover and our traditional and usual generosity is just exploited by people-traffickers, then our country in turn will be damaged

Alexander Downer
Australian FM
He told Australian television that he was searching for a resolution to the crisis.

"But it has to be a resolution that respects the right of Australia to control who comes to this country," Mr Howard said.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer told the BBC they would be ready to accept some people, if they were declared to be genuine refugees.

Aerial view of the Tampa shows some of the rescued refugees on board
Assessments of the condition of the migrants vary
But he said Australia wanted to send a message to the gangs who traffick illegally in people that they were determined to stop this "ugly trade."

"The ships come illegally into our waters and we, like any country ... want to protect the territorial integrity of our country... and so we are still asking for the ship to leave."

Indonesia, too, is standing firm, with its armed forces saying they will take military action to prevent the ship returning, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Diplomatic dispute

The Tampa and her captain, Arne Rinnan, have become embroiled in a three-way diplomatic dispute after rescuing the asylum seekers who were attempting to reach Australia in a rickety ferry.

Norway has reported Australia to the United Nations for refusing to allow the ship to enter its territory.

Hans Christian Bangesmoen, spokesman for the ship's owners, told the BBC there was food enough for the next few days, but problems have emerged over the supply of fresh water.

The BBC's Michael Peschardt on Christmas Island
"There is growing international condemnation"
Norweigan Prime Minister Jens Stoltenburg
"This is the responsibility of the Australian Government"
Australian Democrat Aden Ridgeway
"It is appalling that we seem bereft of advocates for humanitarian causes"
See also:

30 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: High stakes for Howard
30 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian papers split on boat people
13 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia condemns vigilantes
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Boost for anti-immigrant party
29 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian public back hard line
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