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NT: Fishermen found in esky don't want to go home

By Tara Ravens
30 Jan 2009 2:58 PM

DARWIN, Jan 30 AAP - Two fishermen found floating in an oversized esky in the Torres Strait have told authorities they do not want to be sent home.

The men, aged 22 and 24 and who identified themselves as Burmese, were rescued by Australian authorities on January 17 and treated for dehydration on Thursday Island.

They told authorities they survived 25 days at sea by drinking rainwater and eating fish regurgitated by seabirds.

After 10 days of recovery and questioning, they were brought to the mainland before being transferred to an immigration centre in Darwin on Wednesday.

An immigration department spokesman on Friday confirmed the men did not want to return to their country.

But he could not say whether they planned to seek asylum in Australia.

"What it's fair to say is that they have indicated they don't wish to return to their home country but that does not mean they are seeking asylum here," he said.

The men are now considered to be unlawful arrivals in Australia and will be moved to Christmas Island for further questioning and investigation.

"They will remain in detention on Christmas Island while immigration officials consider their claims," the spokesman said, adding that he was not able to release information on the date or time of their transfer.

The identity of the fisherman and their country of origin are yet to be confirmed.

"We know what media reporting has said about the claims of spending 20 days or more at sea and we are still not in a position to comment on the veracity of that, other than to say that they were found in at sea in an icebox," the spokesman said.

The two fisherman have been identified in media reports as Ko Ko Oo, 22, and Haung Htaik, 24.

They claim they were recruited by the operators of a 10-metre Thai fishing vessel, which sank two days before Christmas in Indonesian waters killing 18 crew members.