Australia rescued more than 200 asylum-seekers from a boat off Indonesia, officials said Friday, amid reports navy ships are literally cracking under the strain of responding to a flood of boatpeople.
Authorities raced to help a vessel in Indonesian waters north of the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island late Wednesday, transferring the 211 people on board to naval boats.
"This boat was rescued by the Australian navy," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Friday. "It had reported difficulty."
It is believed to be the largest number of people on a single vessel seeking asylum in Australia since Labor was elected in late 2007 and comes with more than 7,000 boatpeople arriving in the country this year.
Bowen told ABC radio those on board included Sri Lankans, Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis.
The rescue came as the defence department reportedly ordered a check of the patrol ships it uses to intercept boatpeople after cracking was found near the engine room of one and elsewhere on two others.
The Australian newspaper said the department had instigated the urgent probe into its fleet of 14 Armidale class patrol boats after discovering large structural internal cracks near the engine room of the HMAS Armidale.
Bowen said senior navy officials had been working to improve maintenance of the patrol boats.
"Obviously, there has been a high operational tempo in the north of Australia for a range of reasons," he said.
"And obviously, regardless of what's happening, there will always be a considerable workload on Australia's naval vessels in the north and the navy will continue to manage that."
Some 108 asylum-seeker boats carrying 7,364 people have arrived in Australia so far this year after the government failed to pass a law aimed at deterring them from the dangerous voyage by transferring them to Malaysia for processing.
The figure is already more than the annual record of 6,555 set in 2010. Last year 4,565 boatpeople arrived.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has ordered a three-person panel headed by former defence chief Angus Houston to review all options in dealing with asylum-seekers and he is expected to report back next week.
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