Sri Lanka’s navy on Friday arrested more than 50 people heading by boat to Australia.
A navy spokesman says a fishing trawler was detected with the passengers – including 11 women and 13 children – off the island’s north-eastern coast.
“The trawler was intercepted by navy patrol craft 20 nautical miles east of Mullaittivu,” the spokesman said.
The 54 people on board have been handed over to police for further investigation.
They have told authorities they were trying to leave for Australia.
In February, Sri Lanka’s police arrested 75 people who were trying to travel by boat to New Zealand.
The last detection of significant boat traffic to Australia from Sri Lanka was in October, when 70 Sri Lankans were arrested by the navy off the island’s southern port of Galle, the navy said.
Sri Lankan asylum seekers, many of whom claim persecution at home over Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist conflict, have tried to travel to New Zealand by boat in the past, but Australia has been a more favoured destination.
Sri Lankan police have arrested dozens of people for organising boat trips to Australia, including several naval personnel.