Indonesia arrests 18 migrants stranded in waters of Java, bound for Australia

SUKABUMI, Indonesia (AFP) - Indonesian police have arrested 18 migrants who were stranded in the waters off Java island after their boat ran out of fuel as they tried to reach Australia, an official said.

The group from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan had boarded the wooden boat from Pameungpeuk beach in West Java and were heading to Australia's remote Christmas Island, district immigration chief Filianto Akbar told reporters late on Wednesday (Sept 23).

"They intended to go to Christmas Island but their boat ran out of fuel and drifted near a beach in Cianjur district on Wednesday," he said.

"They asked passing fishermen for help, who then informed the police."

Sixteen migrants were taken to an immigration detention centre while two others were still being questioned by police, Mr Akbar said, adding that the boat's captain and two crew members had also been arrested.

Australia's conservative government introduced hardline immigration policies in 2013 allowing authorities to prevent asylum seekers from attempting to arrive on the mainland.

Indonesia has previously expressed disapproval of the tough immigration policy implemented by former prime minister Tony Abbott's conservative coalition.

The policy includes turning back boats carrying migrants and refusing to resettle asylum seekers who arrive on unauthorised vessels even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

They are instead detained in immigration camps on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, despite harsh criticism from rights groups.

The latest boat is reportedly the first attempt by asylum seekers to reach Australia by sea since Mr Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister last week.

On Wednesday, Mr Turnbull admitted he had concerns about asylum seekers being held in Pacific island camps, but gave no indication of their being an immediate change to the government's policy.