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Australia's Day

Migrants Missing in Crocodile-Infested Mangroves After Boat Runs Aground

They could be the first refugees to have made landfall in Australia since 2014.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU

On Sunday morning, a small fishing boat carrying dozens of irregular migrants ran aground near the mouth of the Daintree River, in far north Queensland.

Witness reports claim the crew abandoned the vessel as it foundered offshore, wading through the crocodile-infested waters and disappearing into the dense mangrove estuary of the Daintree Rainforest. Guardian Australia reported that up to 30 people are still at large, thought to be in hiding, as police and border force officers continue to scour the forest.

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Eleven have already been found and detained, Department of Home Affairs confirmed.

It is as yet unclear whether the migrants are asylum seekers or fishermen who ran into trouble off Cape Kimberley. If they are found to be illegal refugees, they would be the first to have made landfall in Australia since July 2014.

Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu said the runaways were likely to be hiding from authorities in the mangroves—home to legions of deadly saltwater crocodiles—and voiced serious concerns for the safety of anyone who finds themselves on foot in the Daintree.

"There has been a concern throughout the afternoon that these people are putting themselves at risk in known crocodile habitat," she told the ABC.

"It's really quite treacherous to be in crocodile habitat in the Daintree, in the mangroves and in the rainforest, where you certainly don't know the area."

Operator of Daintree Fishing and Photography Tours Dave Patterson came across the vessel, deserted and adrift, at about 8:30 on Sunday morning. Dave described it as an “odd-looking wooden boat that looked like a Vietnamese-Chinese-Indonesian fishing boat”.

“There were people on it that just bailed out of the boat,” he told Guardian Australia. “We don’t see this kind of stuff too often, or ever.”

A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs confirmed that a search for the missing persons is ongoing, and said that “The first priority is to confirm the safety and welfare of the people on the fishing vessel.”