Refugees aboard a boat intercepted by the Australian navy may have doused the vessel with petrol before an explosion that killed three people and left dozens injured yesterday, officials said.
“It is understood that persons on the boat spread petrol and that ignited, causing the explosion” that sank the wooden fishing boat, West Australia state Premier Colin Barnett told a news conference.
The vessel was moored after being intercepted and was awaiting transportation to an immigration center when there was an explosion in the engine room, police Sergeant Greg Lambert said.
Three people died, two were missing and another seven were critically injured, with many others suffering serious burns and fractures, in the explosion off Australia’s northwest coast, police and the Royal Flying Doctors Service said.
All 51 people on board the ship — including four navy personnel — suffered some injury as it went down around dawn, health officials said.
Australian Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus refused to confirm the cause of the blast but conceded, when pressed by reporters, that the claim was possible.
“It’s clearly a possibility that that’s what happened,” Debus said, during a joint press conference with the navy’s Rear Admiral Allan du Toit. “But we are not in a position to finally confirm whether that is so or not.”
Du Toit said the vessel was intercepted off northwestern Australia on Wednesday by an armed boarding party. The 49 refugees and crew on board, some of them children, were reportedly from Iraq or Afghanistan.
There was no unrest among the passengers ahead of the explosion, Du Toit said.