Western Australia police will investigate a “burial site” on a remote island off the north-west coast, with fears Indonesian fishers are buried there.
Shipwreck survivors were rescued from the area after Cyclone Ilsa earlier this year, but nine of their shipmates were reported missing, feared dead.
Broome detectives will check for human remains.
A video posted by the ABC showed rocks marking out rectangles, with sticks and in one case a cross erected within them on Imperieuse Reef in the Rowley Shoals marine park.
WA Police said they had “received reports of what is described as a burial site at Rowley Shoals”.
“Following recent approval from the state coroner, Broome detectives will conduct an examination of the reported site, to verify if any human remains are present.
“At this stage, human remains have not been located in relation to this reported site.
“We will deploy local forensic resources initially, but it may require further deployment of specialist forensic resources.”
The Rowley Shoals marine park, 300km west of Broome, is a popular place for diving, snorkelling and fishing – including illegal fishing. Authorities reportedly picked up an illegal fishing boat almost every day in the three months to October.
Indonesian fishers risk the trip for the area’s trepang (sea cucumbers) and sharks (for the fins).
Skipper Harley Cuzens told the ABC that along with the stones, sticks and cross, there were “a few other mounds” which he suspected were burial sites.
“I spotted the sticks poking up from a distance, so headed over for a look and thought, ‘Bloody hell, these are graves’,” he said.
“I’d imagine they were fishermen and seafarers like myself. No matter what you think about the fishing practices you still feel for them, as people have potentially died trying to eke out a living.
“And until the police go out there, we’ve actually got no clue what’s happened.”
In April, 11 Indonesian fishers were rescued from the Rowley Shoals after Cyclone Ilsa destroyed their boat. They had been shipwrecked there for six days without food or water.
Nine shipmates were missing, feared dead after the storm.
A surveillance flight spotted the makeshift camp and beached boat.
“The survivors reported that there had been two fishing vessels with 10 crew each but one vessel had sunk in the extreme conditions of the cyclone,” an Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesperson said at the time.
“The remaining vessel managed to rescue the only survivor before being washed ashore on Bedwell Island.”
In 2022, three people were rescued and another nine were reported missing after an Indonesian fishing boat capsized off the north-west coast.