A boatload of suspected asylum seekers is believed to be off the coast of Christmas Island today after it came within hundreds of metres of the island’s coast.
SBS WA Correspondent Ryan Emery is on the island and captured the moment the Australian navy turned the boat around just off the island’s coast and accompanied it back out to sea.
Island locals first noticed the boat about 6am this morning Christmas Island time anchored about 200 metres off Flying Fish Cove.
The cove is the island’s main port and is where the jetty is located that has been used to take hundreds of asylum seekers ashore in the past.
Locals say they saw a naval frigate approach the boat before a rib was sent out to get closer to the vessel.
SBS filmed as the naval officers spoke to those on board and it appeared made them put on life jackets.
The naval frigate and two ribs circled the vessel off Smith Point, next to Flying Fish Cove, for about 30 minutes before someone on board the suspected asylum seeker boat powered it back out to sea.
The boat, which appeared to be about a 25-foot wooden fishing vessel with low gunwales, was taken over the horizon accompanied by the naval frigate.
It was not clear how many people were onboard and whether they’ll be transferred to another naval vessel or escorted further out to sea in their own boat.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration told SBS in a statement that the department did "not comment on operational matters."
Boats 'towed back out to sea'
Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson said locals spotted the fishing boat early on Friday morning about 100 to 200 metres from Smith Point, the entry to the island's harbour.
By the time he arrived to join onlookers at Smith Point before 7am, the boat was being towed by an Australian navy patrol boat and was about 3 to 5km out to sea.
"I saw the navy patrol boat towing the Indonesian fishing boat out to sea away from Christmas Island," he told AAP.
"It's a wicked thing to do."
Mr Thomson says the federal government hasn't notified him about approaching boats since 2009.
He's questioned whether officials checked the boat's seaworthiness before towing it out to sea.
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young urged the government to bring the boat to shore and unload its passengers.
"The safest thing to do now is to let these people land on Christmas Island and find out who they are," she said in a statement.
Unrest at detention centre
Earlier this month, detainees at the Christmas Island detention centre rioted following the death of an asylum seeker who had escaped.
One detainee, known as "Malu" told SBS that staff had left the centre after riots broke out and said he witnessed fire and property being destroyed.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said tear gas was used to bring an end to the unrest and five detainees were injured.
The estimated cost of the damage to the centre was close to $10 million.
- with AAP