The West

The biggest boatload of asylum seekers since Labor won office five years ago has reached Australia, signalling a renewed focus on border protection policy.

But the Gillard Government delayed telling the public about the arrival of the boat until last night - presumably to avoid the news hitting the headlines.

The boat carrying 211 people was intercepted 81 nautical miles north-east of Christmas Island about 9.30pm on Wednesday night.

HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Ararat were sent to assist after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority got a distress call on Wednesday afternoon.

In a press release issued last night at 7.39pm, more than 20 hours after the navy ships reached the boat, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the asylum seekers had been transferred to the navy ships for "operational and safety reasons".

They were expected to arrive at Christmas Island overnight for security, health and identity checks.

The fact so many people were crammed on to the boat will worry Australian authorities because overcrowding of vessels is a common cause of capsizing.

As reported in _The West Australian _last week, the Government has been warned to expect that criminal syndicates will cram more people on boats to maximize profits.

More than 100 boats have arrived this year carrying more than 7000 people. Many have died making the hazardous journey.

This boat easily eclipses the 175 people that arrived on a boat on May 20 and the 170 that came on a boat on April 29.

It is also the biggest boatload since Labor won Government in 2007.

A spokeswoman for Mr Clare said the delay in confirming the arrival was because of operational difficulties. The weather was so bad the boat could not be boarded and the number aboard could not be safely assessed until later.

She said it was standard practice not to announce the arrival of boats until the number of people aboard could be verified.

The West Australian

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