The Royal Australian Navy has been authorised to fire over the bows of asylum-seeker boats as part of "escalation of force" measures to turn back boats to Indonesia.
But the Federal Government has denied Indonesian police claims that an Australian navy vessel fired into the air during the interception of asylum seekers within sight of Christmas Island this month.
An unnamed Indonesian police officer told Fairfax Media the navy fired gunshots while attempting to turn back a boat carrying 25 people.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday the claims were not true.
"Without commenting on any specific alleged incident, I can confirm that no shots have been fired at any time by any persons involved in Operation Sovereign Borders since the operation commenced," Mr Morrison said.
Though the shooting has been denied, it is understood the navy is authorised to fire shots out in front of asylum boats if they fail to respond to repeated warnings to turn back to Indonesia. In 2001, the frigate HMAS Adelaide fired warning shots well ahead of an asylum vessel after those aboard failed to respond to repeated warnings to turn back.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the Government should drop the secrecy around its border protection regime.
"I don't want to see servicemen and women caught up as the meat in an Abbott-Morrison secrecy sandwich," Mr Shorten said.
_The West Australian _revealed last week that the Government had bought a number of big, powered lifeboats to send back asylum seekers who might arrive in unseaworthy vessels.
But Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa yesterday warned Australia could be fuelling people smuggling to Indonesia if Canberra was paying for boats to send asylum seekers back.
"It's one thing to turn back the actual boats on which they have been travelling but another issue when they are transferred on to another boat and facilitated and told to go in that direction," Dr Natalegawa said.
Last night, A group of asylum seekers say they were given a boat by Australian authorities in which they were forced to return to Indonesia under their own steam after their own vessel’s engine failed.
The development appears to be confirmation that Australian border-protection authorities have begun using lifeboats to return asylum-seekers to Indonesia, after the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders confirmed on Wednesday that a number of such vessels had been acquired.
One asylum seeker has told AAP he was with about 50 others from Bangladesh and Pakistan when they were intercepted close to Christmas Island about 10 days ago, after their boat’s engine stopped working.
The man, from Bangladesh, who spoke through a translator, said they were then transferred to an Australian navy vessel, where they remained for several days, before being escorted back towards Indonesia.
They were then given a smaller boat that they used to make their own way to Pelabuuhan Ratu in West Java, which they say took about three hours.
The smaller boat was crewed by by the same Indonesian men that had attempted to take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island.
The group arrived at Pelabuuhan Ratu, about 12 hours drive from Jakarta, at about 11am on Wednesday morning.
It’s believed they could be from a group of about 54 asylum seekers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma who had reportedly set out for Christmas Island on about January 5 or 6.