More than 130 Sri Lankans believed to be heading for Australia and New Zealand have been intercepted by Malaysian police, smashing a large human smuggling ring that has been operating for over a year.
Authorities halted the modified tanker on Tuesday off the coast of southern Johor state, national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement Saturday.
He said the immigrants included 98 men, 24 women, four boys and five girls.
Police also raided a fishing boat used to transport the migrants to the vessel and detained three Indonesians and four Malaysians on board, he said. Another five Malaysians were nabbed for suspected involving in the smuggling syndicate.
"This syndicate has been operating since mid-2017 and has international connections across Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia," Fuzi said.
A total of 127 Sri Lankans will be charged for entering Malaysia illegally while nine Malaysians, four Indonesians and four Sri Lankans will be investigated for human smuggling, he added.
Border Protection and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the need for operation sovereign borders is as vital today as it was when it began.
"It is clear the threat from criminal people smuggling syndicates remains and so must our efforts to maintain our border security," Mr Dutton said in a statement on Sunday.