The West

Sri Lanka's high commissioner to Australia says he doesn't expect a flood of asylum seekers will follow the 66 potential refugees who gobsmacked onlookers with their arrival in Geraldton.

Passengers of the rickety boat that pulled into the busy port on Tuesday remain in the country but will be flown to Christmas Island for processing as soon as possible, an Immigration Department spokeswoman said.

The women and children remain at various undisclosed locations, understood to be in Perth.

The single men are at Yongah Hill Detention Centre in Northam, where the facility is substantially under its 600-person capacity, Shire President Steve Pollard said.

The high commissioner, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, told Fairfax radio that he expected the asylum seekers would not be found to be refugees and would be sent back to Sri Lanka as soon as possible.

Saying it had been four years since the country's 30-year civil war ended and denying accusations of ongoing human rights violations against Tamils, he said he believed the Geraldton arrivals wanted to live in Australia “purely for economic reasons”.

A single boat slipping through maritime surveillance after no intelligence tip-offs was not serious, Admiral Samarasinghe said.

Any boats attempting a similar journey were likely to be intercepted by the Sri Lankan Navy's cordon and if not, there were no guarantees there would be fair weather all the way to the Australian mainland, he said.

“The success (of the boat that arrived in Geraldton) was due to certain circumstances but it will not give a green light to people to think of taking this road.”

He said the Sri Lankan government was spending substantial amounts trying to stop asylum seeker boats leaving and co-operation with Australian authorities was good.

“If the two countries agree, they can do wonders,” he said.

Admiral Samarasinghe is all for the Opposition's plan to reinstate the Howard-era policy of towing back asylum seeker vessels.

But former defence force chief Chris Barrie says it could amount to piracy.

The coalition says customs could contact boats in international waters to establish whether to turn them around, but Admiral Barrie warns that could violate international law.

“If the boat itself is well found and it appears to be exercising freedom of the high seas, a right to board is very much constrained under international law,” he told ABC radio.

“There would be some circumstances, I guess, where it might become an act of piracy.”

The West Australian

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