The Vietnamese men were found guilty of “organising illegal escape to foreign countries” at a hearing in southern Ba Ria Vung Tau province on Wednesday, a court official said yesterday. The sentences ranged from three to six and a half years in jail.
Media reports said 48-year-old ring leader Nguyen Dinh Chien and his accomplices organised three trips, sailing 124 people to Australia between May 2010 and April 2011, charging each passenger $7100 ($7087).
All of the migrants were held in processing centres upon landing in Australia, the Thanh Nien newspaper said.
On Sunday, police in Ba Ria Vung Tau arrested 28 people hiding in a boat preparing to head for Australia, willing to pay a boat crew up to $13,000 each to get there “for a more comfortable life”, Lao Dong newspaper said.
Australia is a popular destination for desperate migrants from across Southeast Asia who make perilous journeys in often rickety, overloaded boats to reach its shores.
On Wednesday, Australian rescuers plucked 130 people from the ocean near Christmas Island after an asylum-seeker boat sank en route to Australia, barely a week after another vessel went down in the same area, killing up to 90.
Most of the boats packed with asylum seekers originate in Indonesia, but there has been a recent spike in attempts from Sri Lanka.
The sentences came as the Senate yesterday rejected a bill to allow boatpeople to be sent offshore for processing leaving the divisive issue of asylum-seekers in the country at a stalemate.