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Australian coroner finds asylum boat blast 'deliberate'

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

A boat with suspected asylum seekers off Australia's north-west coast. Photo: 15 September 2009
Many refugees attempt to reach Australia by sea

A coroner in Australia has ruled that three Afghan asylum seekers set fire to their boat deliberately, in act of sabotage which killed five people.

The inquest found that the three men were probably trying to cripple the boat.

This would have prevented it being returned to Indonesia, where the asylum seekers had set out from.

The blast occurred last April, a day after the vessel had been intercepted by the Australian navy.

It is up to the police to decide whether to mount a criminal prosecution.

The wooden boat, with 47 asylum seekers onboard, was being escorted by an Australian navy vessel when the explosion occurred.

Five people drowned after being flung from the ship, which was on its way to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, where Australia has an immigration detention centre.

'Preventable'

After a three-week inquest into the deaths, the coroner ruled that they were the result of sabotage, when petrol was deliberately spilled on the boat and then ignited.

The explosion happened after the navy handed the crew a warning notice that said they should consider returning to Indonesia.

Had this warning not been delivered, the coroner ruled, then the deaths could have been avoided.

The inquest also found that the explosion could have been prevented if the petrol on board the vessel had been identified and then secured by Australian navy personnel.

The coroner also said the naval boarding party could have confiscated lighters and matches.

But the Australian navy was also commended for rescuing so many asylum seekers from the water.



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