A row between Indonesia and Australia over allegations people smugglers were bribed at sea shows no sign of abating, with the captain of the boat highlighting Wednesday the circumstances of the alleged exchange.

A spokesperson for East Nusa Tenggara Police told Anadolu Agency that they had interrogated the Indonesian captain, who claims he and his crew were paid a total of $31,000 by an Australian official.

"The captain admitted to being paid $6,000, while five other crew were each paid $5,000 to return the illegal immigrants back to Indonesia," local Deputy Chief Commissioner Ronalzie Agus said by phone from Rote island, where the 71 asylum-seekers and crew came ashore last month.

Agus said that Captain Yohanis Humiang had told his story while sitting at a table in front of stacks of U.S. dollar bills he claims came from an Australian official.

Humiang - wearing a black mask to disguise his face - said that he and the other crew were recruited in early April 2015 and also became victims of the smuggling syndicate.

"They were promised work on a fishing boat with the lure of Rp150 million ($1123)," said Agus.

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has rejected the accusations, suggesting Indonesia is to blame for initially failing to secure its borders, while Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to confirm or deny them, saying he does not comment on operational matters.

In response, Indonesia has pushed for answers, also releasing photos Wednesday of what it says is the $31,000.

Agus said Wednesday that Humiang had said he had left the south coast of West Java on May 5 to try and ship the migrants -- 10 Bangladeshis, 54 Sri Lankans, and a Myanmar national -- to New Zealand in a boat purchased from local fishermen.

In late May 2015, on arriving in international waters off the coast of East Timor, Australian border patrol officers intercepted the boat.

"The officers prohibited them from entering Australian waters," Agus said. "But they [the crew] continued to sail because the captain argued that it was International water."

Four days later, the boat was again intercepted by a patrol of Australian customs and Navy boats.

Agus said that Humiang told police that they were then interrogated and warned not to continue to their chosen destination of New Zealand because their boat was damaged and the sea was too dangerous.

They were then herded into Australian waters to be identified by local customs officers and arrested for four days before being released, he said.

"During that interrogation, it has been alleged that the captain and an Australian official came to an agreement about the compensation."?
The Jakarta Post reported the exchange Wednesday, the captain attempting to underline to the Australians that he had done nothing wrong.

"He said you have committed something illegal but I told him I was still in international waters, you don't have the right to take us... But he said that we would still be arrested," the Post reported Humiang as saying.

"I said we need money to go back to our wives and children. He said 'Okay, we will provide you with assistance' -- I will be given US$6,000 and the crew $5,000 each. That was a form of assistance provided to us and he told us not to do this again. I agreed to it."

According to police, the Australians seized the Indonesian boat, and instead gave them two small wooden boats to take them back to Indonesia.

Officials gave them life jackets, food, and maps and directions to Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara, said Agus.

The captain said that an official -- who appeared to be of Indonesian heritage -- then gave the money to the crews.

But soon after setting out, one of the boats experienced engine failure leading to "panic" on board and all 71 people ended up on the other vessel.

The captain has described the boat as "unseaworthy," saying it lacked proper navigation systems and had no toilets.

"The migrants became angry and quarrelled with each other and threatened the crew because they were in panic," Humiang said. "I was scared and did not know what to do."

On May 31, local fishermen found the boat stranded in shallow waters on Landu Island near Rote.

"Two of the crew tried to escape but were caught shortly afterwards," said Agus.

He said that police had seized the $31,000 from the captain and crew as "proof" of the payment.

The six crew are now in police custody and threatened with prison sentences of 5-15 years and a fine of Rp 1.5 billion.

Anadolu Agency