'Missing' boat carrying dozens of Indian migrants bound for New Zealand - report

Source: 1News

Indian police believe a boat with more than 100 migrants on board could be heading to New Zealand.

Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania - December 28, 2009: Sunset behind a crowded boat is transporting refugees on Lake Tanganyika from the DR Congo into Tanzania.

The boat, which is carrying people from the Indian capital New Delhi and the southern state of Tamil Nadu, left Munambam harbour in Kerala on January 12, Reuters reports.

One person, Prabhu Dhandapani, has been arrested in connection to the investigation and told officers in India that the boat was headed for New Zealand.

It is expected between 100 and 200 people are on the boat, including women and children.

Police have recovered more than 70 bags left behind by the migrants, as well as around 20 identification documents, officer VG Ravindran told Reuters.

"The bags are full of dry goods and clothes, suggesting they were preparing for a long journey," officer MJ Sojan said.

"The people and boat are missing somewhere in the sea. Many Indian agencies including the coastguard are trying to locate the boat."

The journey is about 11,300 kilometres through some of the world's roughest seas. Cyclones and storms are common in the straits between Indonesia and Australia, which is the most likely route for the boat.

Immigration NZ assistant general manager Stephen Vaughan would not comment on this specific case, but said the organisation was aware people smugglers continued to express interest in targeting New Zealand.

"While reports of these types of ventures are concerning, the message to anyone contemplating such a journey is simple: Any attempt to reach New Zealand will put your life, and the lives of your family members, at great risk," Mr Vaughan said. "There is every chance you will drown at sea."

Immigration NZ was working with its international partners to monitor and respond to potential mass arrivals, he said.

"Although there has never been a mass arrival in this country there’s no doubt that New Zealand is a target for people smugglers and a mass arrival at some stage is a very real possibility that we need to be fully prepared for."

Under the Immigration Act 2009, those who arrive as part of a mass arrival to be detained for up to six months and allows this detention period to be extended for up to 28 days at a time, if a District Court Judge determines that is necessary.