Australia investigates deadly explosion on refugee boat

AustraliaSydney- Authorities have begun interviewing witnesses to a deadly explosion on a fishing boat carrying 49 Afghan refugees off Australia's west coast as another boat with 100 asylum seekers aboard was heading toward Australia Saturday, news reports said.

All surviving passengers, along with two crew members and 51 Australian Defence Force personnel, are to be interviewed as part of the investigation into the cause of Thursday's explosion, which left three people dead, two missing and 31 injured, some with serious burns.

The injured were being treated at Perth, Darwin and Brisbane hospitals, and doctors Saturday said they were hopeful that all the injured would survive.

The Northern Territory coroner is to examine the three bodies of the victims, and three asylum seekers discharged from a Darwin hospital are now in the custody of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Meanwhile, the other boat carrying asylum seekers was being monitored by the Australian Navy and would be intercepted once it enters Australian waters, local news reports said.

One member of a group of 70 Afghans detained Friday by Indonesian authorities in a West Java coastal town told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) that they were intending to travel to Australia.

Nur Abdul Hassan Hussaini, whose two applications to join family members in Sydney were refused and who had resorted to entering Australia illegally, told the ABC that the journey would have been worth the risk and a softening of asylum policy had not influenced his decision.

The political opposition is blaming the recent boat arrivals on the Labor government's "soft" stance on immigration.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Friday that people smugglers must "rot in jail," but the Refugee Council of Australia president John Gibson said, "To focus on the question of people smugglers is to forget and to ignore the genuine difficulties and persecution which people are fleeing. I think we have to remember that in a desperate situation, people who are victims of persecution turn to those sort of people."

Meanwhile, an Indonesian, Man Pombili, 31, was jailed Friday for six years for captaining a sinking vessel with 10 asylum seekers on board by the Western Australian District Court, news reports said. (dpa)