(CNN) -- Australia's prime minister Friday slammed those engaged in human trafficking after an explosion aboard a boat carrying Afghan refugees killed three people and injured more than 40 others near Ashmore Reef, off Australia's northwest coast.
"People smugglers are engaged in the world's most evil trade and they should all rot in jail because they represent the absolute scum of the earth," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters.
"We see this lowest form of human life at work in what we saw on the high seas yesterday. That's why this government maintains its hardline, tough, targeted approach to maintaining border protection for Australia. And that's why we have dedicated more resources to combat people smuggling than any other government in Australian history."
The boat was carrying 49 refugees, officials said. In addition to the three killed, two others were missing.
Rudd would not comment on the cause of the explosion, citing the ongoing investigation.
The prime minister acknowledged that human smuggling was an increasing problem exacerbated by "global factors" but defended his government's border security policies.
"Our staff, our naval staff, our coast watch staff, our aerial surveillance staff and others, our police, are doing a first class job backed up by our intelligence officers as well, also in collaboration with partners across the region," the prime minister said.
"Because it is a global phenomenon and we are finding push factors operating from around the world, our active partnership with international governments and international agencies like the UNHCR is equally critical. This is a fight on many fronts. It is a fight which we have been engaged in for some time and a fight which other governments around the world are equally engaged in with us."
Rudd said the refugees' requests for asylum "will be treated under the normal provisions of the law through the examination of each of their individual cases."