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SYDNEY, Australia (September 12, 2001 – Sydney Morning Herald/PINA Nius Online)---An Australian navy ship carrying 670 boat people is bypassing Port Moresby and heading for Nauru. It comes after an Australian court ruled the government illegally stopped some of the asylum seekers from landing in Australia.

Last night, the Australian government announced the HMAS Manoora would head straight to Nauru while the government appealed against the court ruling.

The future of the 433 people subject of the court action -- those first rescued from their sinking boat by a Norwegian cargo ship -- remained in limbo, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Once HMAS Manoora arrives in Nauru, the other 237 asylum seekers on board -- those later picked up off Ashmore Reef north of Australia -- will have their refugee status assessed.

The judge ordered that the asylum seekers rescued by the Norwegian ship should be brought onshore in Australia -- to have their status as refugees determined -- by Friday. But this order will be delayed by the appeal process.

The Australian government has undertaken to bring the people back if it loses all appeals, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

A spokesman for Australia's Minister for Immigration said the Manoora was fully supplied to continue at sea with the boat people.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the decision is a major legal setback for Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who has promised that none of the asylum seekers would set foot on Australian soil.

Arrangements to receive the asylum seekers in Nauru continued, with the arrival of a planeload of staff from an Australian security company.

Nauru has negotiated a AU$ 20 million (US$ 10,439,060) assistance package from Australia in return for housing the asylum seekers while their applications for refugee status are processed.

Australia's Defense Minister Peter Reith offered the package in exchange for financially troubled Nauru housing and processing 520 of the 670 asylum seekers, the Sydney Morning Herald said. The rest will go to New Zealand.

Nauru plans to house many of them in a village specially built on the 21 square kilometer (8.4 square mile) Central Pacific nation to host competitors in a world weightlifting championship.

The asylum seekers were originally to be flown from Port Moresby to Nauru and New Zealand on Hercules aircraft.

HMAS Manoora was due to arrive off Port Moresby with the asylum seekers as part of Australia's new hard-line policy of stopping them reaching Australian soil.

Australia believes as many as 9,000 more asylum seekers could be in Indonesia ready to try to sail to Australia.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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