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Maritime Commander Takes Swipe At Kingston

15 July 2002

Navy Didn't Turn Its Back on SIEV-X ~ Admiral Smith (Letter to SMH)

  • I have read with considerable concern articles written by Margo Kingston about the loss of SIEV-X. In "Navy did all it could to find doomed ship: PM" (Herald, July 1) I was accused of giving false evidence to the Senate committee and retracting it to avoid contradicting with evidence from Coastwatch. This is untrue, and I take personal offence at the accusation.

    Hansard records my words on April 4: "We had some information that a boat might have been being prepared in the vicinity of Sunda Strait but we had no real fixed information as to when it was going to sail. Indeed, the first time that the navy knew [it] had sailed was when we were advised through the search and rescue organisation in Canberra that [it] may have foundered in the vicinity of Sunda Strait."

    Ms Kingston has given distorting emphasis to the latter part of my statement, portraying it as a denial that the navy had any information about SIEV-X. In my evidence I explained that unconfirmed intelligence had been received, and later added a letter of clarification that she absurdly labelled a "retraction".

    The letter made the essential point that our intelligence reports come from sources of greatly varying reliability. Often these reports conflict, and cannot be solely relied upon to determine air surveillance patterns or the stationing of ships. This was the case with SIEV-X.

    Those of us charged with the responsibility of sending Australians into harm's way are prepared to weather criticism of our decisions. But Ms Kingston's allegations about ordinary sailors ("Mass drowning case could sink Navy's reputation once and for all", Herald, June 4) are unjustified. She accused them of deliberately turning their backs upon people in peril, which is unfair.

    The Royal Australian Navy is a highly professional service which places the highest importance on the safety of life at sea and, whenever we are able, we will always respond to those in distress.

    G.F. Smith,
    Rear Admiral,
    RAN Maritime Commander Australia,
    Potts Point,
    July 11

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