3 ‘Afghan’ boat people dead after explosion off Christmas island; 34 being treated for burns

Thirty-four suspected asylum seekers, some in a critical condition with severe burns will be treated in Australian hospitals, reports AAP quoting the West Australian health department.

Puffin, an offshore oil rig, 740km west of Darwin is being used as a triage centre for the injured, which include a number of children. According to a report in Melbourne based South Asia Times, three refugees have died after the explosion on the boat they were travelling in. The asylum seekers are reportedly from Afghanistan.

Asylum seekers doused their boat in petrol before a fatal dawn explosion off the north-west Australian coast, West Australian Premier Colin Barnett says.

Mr Barnett said it was unclear how the flames ignited.

“It is understood that the refugees on the boat spread petrol and that ignited, causing the explosion,” Mr Barnett told reporters in Perth.

Mr Barnett would not elaborate on the claim when questioned further.

At a heated press conference in Canberra this afternoon, the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, said that the Government did not want to speculate on the cause of explosion due to ongoing investigations.

He said the claim about petrol was “clearly a possibility” but he could not confirm it.

Three asylum seekers were killed, while two passengers or crew members are missing. A total of 49 asylum seekers were on board the boat, with some navy personnel also present.

Defence Force personnel, passengers and crew all sustained injuries, some minor and almost like sun burn, he said. The full extent of injuries was being assessed.

He said the boat was not being refuelled at the time and it was not being towed.

“I really can’t speculate on the cause. There may be speculation out there but clearly this will be subject to appropriate inquiries by the appropriate authorities,” he told reporters

State health coordinator Dr Andrew Robertson said a six-member burns team would travel to Broome on Thursday night to assess patients on their arrival from the Truscott airbase, north of Kununurra in WA’s northwest.

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) chief executive Tim Shackleton said patients would be transferred from Puffin by helicopter to Truscott, a three-hour round trip from the oil rig.

A jet chartered by the RFDS will then be used to transfer three patients at a time to Broome. From there they will be sent to the Broome, Royal Perth and Royal Darwin hospitals, depending on the severity of their injuries.

“We have now 34 patients that we believe will be coming into WA. They’ll be handled at the Truscott airbase and then they’ll be transferred to either Broome, Darwin or Perth,” Dr Robertson told reporters in Perth.

Dr Robertson said the patients had burns and trauma-related injuries, and some were described as critical.

“We understand that they’ve sustained various burns, fractures et cetera, but we haven’t got a full listing of the injuries sustained as yet,” he said.

“Our understanding is that a number of them have very severe burns and are obviously in a critical condition.”

From Broome, the patients would be flown to the various hospitals by the RFDS or military aircraft, Dr Robertson said.

He said some of the injured were children but he could not say how many.

“We have no information about the ages of the patients but we believe there are some children amongst the patients,” he said.

Mr Shackleton said an RFDS team would arrive at Truscott about 6.30pm (WST) on Thursday.

He said he was not certain if the injured had been treated by a doctor but had received medical attention from Navy medics.

“As far as we’re aware a doctor has not been able to see any of the victims of this and that will occur … as our medical crews arrive at Puffin offshore rig.”

None of the 34 patients who were being transported to hospitals were defence personnel.

Some of the less seriously injured patients would remain on board the navy vessel which dropped the patients at the oil rig, Dr Robertson said.

“At this stage, there are probably a few patients that will be remaining on the boat, priority one and priority two patients, more seriously injured patients will be transferred from the oil rig to Truscott,” Dr Robertson said.

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Ashok Kumar

Ashok Kumar is an accomplished journalist with over 35 years of experience in the profession in various capacities. He was a sub-editor in Patriot and later Chief Sub-editor in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi. He has several published articles and reports in Patriot and HT. Published reports in The Blacktown Sun in Sydney. He had also been a tutor in journalism in the University of Western Sydney. He is currently Editor at The Indian Sub-continent Times, Sydney.

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