SYDNEY–Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday compared accidental naval incursions into Indonesian waters during asylum-seeker operations to dropping a catch in cricket and said Canberra’s apology had been accepted. Jakarta has vowed to step up navy patrols and called on Australia to suspend people-smuggling pushback operations after its vessels “inadvertently” entered Indonesian sovereign waters, renewing tensions between the neighbors. Abbott expressed his “deep regret” at the incidents and said Australia had “fully apologized … and I think the Indonesians have accepted our apology.” “On the high seas all sorts of things happen, there are winds, there are tides, there are other things that they are focusing on,” the prime minister said when asked how it was possible to accidentally stray into another country’s waters. “Even people who are at the very top of their game, even people who are the very best at their job will occasionally make mistakes. Test cricketers occasionally drop catches, great footballers occasionally miss tackles, and regretfully there were a couple of occasions when this mistake was made, but it won’t happen again.” He said that a key point to make was that it had been “almost 40 days” since a boat carrying would-be refugees had arrived in Australia.
Indonesia condemned the violation of its territorial integrity by Australian vessels earlier this month as a “serious matter in bilateral relations” and called for the suspension of Abbott’s military-led “Operation Sovereign Borders” turning back people-smuggling boats where it is safe to do so. Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejected the request, saying it was “not the time for stepping back,” despite warnings from the U.N.’s refugee agency that it may be breaking international law. Relations between the strategic partners have been strained in recent months following a diplomatic row over phone-tapping which saw Jakarta halt military and asylum-seeker collaboration with Australia and recall its ambassador. Hundreds of asylum-seekers have died attempting to make the perilous voyage from Indonesia to Australia on rickety and overcrowded fishing boats.