Ghost ship grabbed

The Cairns Post - - NEWS - PETER MICHAEL

A DRIFT­ING ghost ship has trig­gered a top-level op­er­a­tion with Bor­der Force on high alert for il­le­gal fish­ers and peo­ple smug­glers off Cape York.

Lo­cals feared the for­eign fish­ing ves­sel was part of a botched peo­ple smug­gling op­er­a­tion and re­ported the up­turned hulk to au­thor­i­ties late last week.

Of­fi­cials yes­ter­day re­vealed Cy­clone Penny had washed the ship­wreck off War­rior Reef in the Tor­res Strait from where it had run aground about four years ago.

“Cy­clone Penny went through the area a few weeks ago and it re-floated and was washed out to sea,” an Aus­tralian Mar­itime Safety Au­thor­ity spokesman said. “It was then drift­ing down the east coast.”

Bor­der Force sur­veil­lance air­craft and a he­li­copter were tasked to fly over the hulk – with no signs of life – as it floated in the wa­ters of the north­ern Great Bar­rier Reef.

It fol­lows the foiled bid by 15 il­le­gal im­mi­grants who ran aground in a Viet­namese fish­ing ves­sel at mouth of the Dain­tree River in Au­gust last year.

Bor­der Force were heav­ily crit­i­cised at the time over how that peo­ple smug­gling ven­ture – Aus­tralia’s first in­cur­sion on home soil in 1400 days – was able to sneak in un­der the radar.

On Fri­day, AMSA’s Emer­gency Towage Ves­sel Coral Knight lo­cated the float­ing hulk and, us­ing an emer­gency wreck marker buoy weight as an an­chor, se­cured it out­side of ship­ping lanes.

“This re­duces the risk that the ves­sel poses to nav­i­ga­tion and the reef, un­til it can be safely re­moved,’’ the spokesman said.

Sal­vage crews will be de­ployed to re­trieve the ves­sel from Cairn­cross Islet, 88km south-east of the tip of Cape York, when weather al­lows.

In Bris­bane yes­ter­day, Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton said “peo­ple smug­glers have not gone away”.

Op­er­a­tion Sov­er­eign Bor­ders, launched in 2013 to stop mar­itime ar­rivals of il­le­gal im­mi­grants, had dis­rupted 80 ven­tures in­volv­ing about 2500 peo­ple, he said.

“If peo­ple think this prob­lem has gone away, they don’t un­der­stand the com­plex­ity of it,’’ Mr Dut­ton said.

“Peo­ple smug­glers use hu­man be­ings as com­modi­ties and they take money from peo­ple as they would to move drugs or to move weapons, they just see peo­ple as an­other com­mod­ity.”

AN­CHORED: The aban­doned boat has been se­cured.

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