Thai navy tows migrant boat towards Indonesia

Christophe Archambaul | AFP | Getty Images

A boat carrying around 400 migrants that the Thai navy has towed out to sea is heading toward Indonesia, a Thai government radio station reported on Friday.

Indonesia's navy prevented a boat with hundreds of migrants on board from entering its waters, an Indonesian military spokesman said later on Friday.

It was unclear if the boat rejected by the Indonesians was the same vessel towed out to sea by the Thai navy.

Thousands of migrants adrift on similar boats in Southeast Asian seas have nowhere to go as governments seek to prevent them from landing, despite a request by the United Nations to rescue them.

The U.N. has warned the situation could develop into a "massive humanitarian disaster".

The wooden boat towed back out to sea by the Thai navy was found on Thursday near the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman sea with hundreds of migrants packed on the deck, including children.

Thai authorities fixed the boat's engine and supplied those on board with food, water and medicine before towing it back out to sea in the early hours of Friday morning, said Lieutenant Commander Veerapong Nakprasit, a naval officer based on Koh Lipe.

"Those on the boat did not want to come to Thailand so we gave them food, medicine, fuel and water," Veerapong told Reuters.

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"We did our humanitarian duty. They wanted to go to a third country. They did not want to come to Thailand so we sent them on their way. This is not a push back because these people wanted to go."

Veerapong said the boat was without a captain but that some of those on board had been trained by local Thai fishermen to navigate.

"They trained for around three hours until they knew how to steer. They were really very good," he said, adding that a radar station on the island monitored the boat until it entered international waters.