Australian premier says people smugglers should "rot in hell"

Kevin RuddSydney - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd Friday said those involved in people smuggling should "rot in hell" as authorities investigate the cause of a deadly explosion on a small fishing boat carrying 47 Afghan asylum seekers off the west coast of Australia, news reports said.

The Australian Associated Press (AAP) news agency quoted Rudd as saying his government would maintain a tough policy against people smugglers who were believed responsible for Thursday's explosion.

"People smugglers are the vilest form of human life. They trade on the tragedy of others and that's why they should rot in jail and in my own view, rot in hell," Rudd said.

Three people were killed and at least 31 others are being treated for various injuries in Darwin, Perth and Brisbane while two people are missing since the blast on the boat, which was being escorted by the Australian Navy to Christmas Island.

Royal Darwin Hospital management said patients have injuries including severe burns, fractures, and head injuries, as well as problems from being in the sea for too long, AAP reported.

According to authorities, all injured are male, there were no women or children on board.

Three or four of those injured were Australian officers aboard the refugee boat at the time of the explosion.

The boat is the sixth vessel with asylum seekers on board to arrive in Australian waters this year and the fourth in a fortnight.

The prime minister reiterated that the government was committed to dedicate all necessary resources to fight people smugglers.

Emphasizing that cooperation with other nations was vital in combatting people smuggling, Rudd said, "The ability for us to work effectively with Indonesia and Malaysia and a whole range of other countries, is as critical in this fight as anything else."

Rudd's Labor government has allowed asylum seekers who make landfall to stay in the country while their visa applications are processed. Arrivals are taken to Australia's Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island to await a decision.

Under former prime minister John Howard, boats were intercepted and asylum seekers taken to Nauru or other Pacific island countries that hosted offshore immigration centres on Canberra's behalf.

The so-called Pacific Solution was credited with stopping the flow of unwanted arrivals but also widely criticized for being inhumane. (dpa)