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Australia Navy Tracks Asylum Vessel Heading for Christmas Island

July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Australia’s navy is monitoring a vessel that is heading for Christmas Island after dispatching the HMAS Wollongong to the area in response to a distress call earlier this morning.

The Wollongong is remaining close to the ship, which is heading under its own power for Christmas Island, an Australian territory used as an immigration detention center, the Australian government said today in a statement. A distress call was received about 4:30 a.m. Sydney time from a boat about 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Indonesia in the Sunda Strait, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said earlier.

“Though there are no obvious visual signs that the vessel is in imminent danger, this will be assessed once the vessel has been boarded, when weather conditions improve,” AMSA said in the most recent statement. “Weather conditions in the area are unfavorable, with rough sea conditions continuing.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is seeking to stem the flow of asylum seekers who pay smugglers in Indonesia to ferry them in overcrowded boats to Australia. There have been at least five fatal incidents of human trafficking since 2010.

Gillard’s bid to create new laws against people-smuggling, often in boats from Indonesia, was defeated in the Senate last month. There have been at least five fatal incidents of human trafficking since 2010, including on June 21 when about 90 people are suspected to have died after a boat capsized near Christmas Island.

The minority Labor government is trying to resolve a political stalemate over where to base offshore processing centers for refugees who pay smugglers in Indonesia thousands of dollars to ferry them in overcrowded boats to Australia. The nation’s first female prime minister trails in opinion polls, with elections due by November 2013.

To contact the reporter on this story: Garfield Reynolds in Sydney at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Johnson at

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