Drownings fear after life-jackets wash up in Australia

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian police said on Monday that at least eight life-jackets had washed up on a beach in the Cocos Islands, sparking fears that asylum-seekers may once again have drowned en route to Australia.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the life-jackets were found on the island off Western Australia, but a spokesman could not immediately confirm a report that one contained a small amount of Iranian currency.

"The AFP is making enquiries into the origin of the life-jackets," a spokesman said, adding that it was working closely with border protection and customs officials.

"As enquiries into this are ongoing, it would not be appropriate for the AFP to comment further at this time."

Mr Ian Rintoul, from the asylum-seeker support group Refugee Action Coalition, said he was amazed that Australian authorities had not launched a search for an asylum-seeker boat after the find on Friday.

"I just think it's astounding that the federal police or the border protection should be still waiting after three days," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"I mean it is a basic indication that someone is in trouble and you would have expected there to be a search by now."

Mr Rintoul said the life-jackets most likely came from an asylum-seeker boat and urged an immediate search for survivors.

"I mean, if there's life-jackets washed up on any other beach in Australia there would be a search to determine the origin of those life-jackets and to provide any kind of assistance to any boat that was in trouble," he said.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers have drowned at sea over the past few years while trying to reach Australia, mostly via Indonesia.

Canberra has attempted to crack down on people-smuggling by sending boat passengers to remote processing stations on the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru and impoverished Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

However, more than 10,000 people have arrived in Australia this year alone, many from Iran and Afghanistan.