Mon August 20, 2012 10:30pm
SRI Lanka's navy has stopped two Australia-bound trawlers carrying 83 would-be asylum seekers, in the first detection since Canberra tightened restrictions on boat people.
Navy officials said the two craft were found on Monday off the island's northeastern port of Trincomalee, with two women and four children among those on board.
"The trawlers were detected 15 miles (24 kilometres) off the coast," a spokesman said. "The 83 people aboard have been handed over to the police."
The detection was the first since Australia's parliament last week decided to send asylum-seekers arriving by boat to holding centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island before considering their application for refugee status.
Sri Lankan authorities say they have arrested nearly 900 people who have tried to leave for Australia illegally this year.
Australia hopes the prospect of years in detention on remote Pacific islands will deter asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous sea voyage, which has cost hundreds of lives over the past decade.
Sri Lankans pay up to $A3000 for a place on trawlers run by people smugglers who promise to take them to Australia in about two weeks.