By Ainur Rohmah
TUBAN, Indonesia (AA) – An Indonesian official confirmed Sunday that they will help an Indian-flagged vessel carrying around 35 Sri Lankans sail back into international waters after it was stranded off Sumatra island while reportedly headed to Australia.
The chief of the supervision and enforcement department of the Immigration Office in northern Aceh province’s capital Banda Aceh said the ethnic Tamil on board refused to approach the Indonesian coast.
"They asked for help so that the ship's engine could be made to operate again and [the ship] could soon reach the destination," detik.com quoted Usman, who like many Indonesians uses one name, as saying.
The vessel carrying the reported Sri Lankan nationals, including 17 women and five children, suffered engine damage amid strong winds that forced them to anchor around 300 meters (984 feet) from Lhoknga beach in Aceh Besar regency Saturday.
Indonesian authorities have confirmed that those on board are in healthy condition with enough food supplies.
Usman said Sunday that the immigration office had decided to help repair the vessel off the coast so it could return to international waters.
"This decision was taken after we consulted with all related institutions," kompas.com quoted him as saying.
"They have a travel document that writes they will be heading to Australia. Based off an existing document, they are citizens of Sri Lanka but sailed from India," he underlined.
Usman said they did not know why the vessel was headed to Australia.
"We do not check their purpose, but certainly they want to go to Australia," he added.
Last month, Australia repatriated around a dozen Sri Lankans whose vessel had evaded border patrols and arrived on Australia's Cocos Islands, after determining they were not refugees.
Under Australia's immigration policy, it refuses to accept asylum seekers who arrive by boat, instead detaining them at offshore detention centers, where conditions have been described as appalling by rights advocates.