Ghost ship grabbed
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.