Saturday, 24 June 2017  
How many of the 1500 asylum seeker lives lost at sea since 2001 could have been saved?
Zahra (6), Fatima (7) and Eman (9) - the daughters of Sondos Ismail and Ahmed Alzalimi -  three of the 146 children who lost their lives when the vessel that has become known as SIEVX foundered in international waters en route to Christmas Island on 19 October 2001.
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GOVERNMENT
SAR Whistleblower On SIEVX

7 August 2002

Any rational person walking down a street and noticing a house on fire will call the fire brigade, at the very least. This is not rocket science; it is a simple deductive process where a person notices an emergency situation and deduces what should be done:

house on fire + people are often in houses + fire hurts or kills people + fire brigades put out fires and save people = ring 000.

IN the case of SIEVX, however, this did not happen. The deductive process went like this:

boat in danger of sinking + boat dangerously overloaded + boat not there any more = not my responsibility, don't understand, have another cup of tea.

A Search And Rescue Expert has written the following observations and questions in regard to SIEVX. He is Mr Ken McLeod, who before his 'retirement' in 1996, had worked in Search And Rescue (SAR) for 24 years, was editor of the Australian National Search And Rescue Manual, Secretary of the Australian National SAR Conference, and Vice-Chairman of a United Nations Committee on Search And Rescue. He says that with the government's refusal to fully co-operate with the Senate, we will never get to the truth until there is a Royal Commission...

It should be noted that Mr McLeod's knowledge of the SIEVX Affair is based on a reading of the media coverage - he has not read the transcript of the Inquiry and is writing solely from an SAR perspective.


SOME ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED
by Ken McLeod

1. EPIRBS AND THE COSPAS-SARSAT EMERGENCY SATELLITE SYSTEM

The Senate was advised by AUSAR that AUSAR received no alerts from or about SIEV X. That does not mean that COSPAS-SARSAT and AUSAR did not receive information that SIEV X's EPIRB had been activated.

Let's start with what we do know:

1.1. Indonesia has a very large program of fitting every Indonesian, vessel, yes every one, with an EPIRB.

1.2. An Australian government agency, the People Smuggling Task force, knew SIEV X was missing or in trouble.

1.3. AUSAR claim that they were not informed by any Australian government agency that SIEV X was missing or in trouble.

1.4. If AUSAR had been able to put the two critical pieces of information together, (that a vessel was suspected to be in trouble and that, by referring to the COSPAS-SARSAT map display, an EPIRB had been detected in the relevant area), AUSAR would have come to the obvious conclusion and acted, and perhaps rescued those people.

Now for what we are not sure of...

1.5. While it's reasonable to assume that there should have been an EPIRB on SIEV X, with Indonesia being the state of disorganisation that it is, there is no absolute assurance that there was an EPIRB on board SIEV X, and if there was, that someone knew how to activate it.

1.6. If that EPIRB was activated, it's not guaranteed that COSPAS-SARSAT will detect it, particularly if it is a 121.5 MHz version and if it's some distance from the satellite ground station, the Local user Terminal, LUT.

RECOMMENDATION.

AUSAR should be asked to provide all information that their COSPAS-SARSAT terminals received on activated EPIRBs in the area during the time in question. Investigators should not be put off with replies about COSPAS-SARSAT alerts, but go for all information.

2. THE SO-CALLED TASK FORCE

It's clear that the so-called Task Force, was a political instrument, and questions must be asked as to what thought was given to emergency response in its setting up. So,

2.1. Which government agencies were represented on the task force?

2.2. Who were the representatives?

2.3. What was each person's roles and responsibilities?

2.4. What was each person's experience and qualifications?

2.5. Who had any operational experience?

2.5 What were the Task Force's formal Terms Of Reference?

2.6. What particular paragraphs addressed the need for emergency response?

2.7. What standing arrangements were created at the implementation of the Task Force to respond to any life-threatening emergency that arose during the life of the Task Force?

2.8. What emergency response authorities were permanently included in the Task Force?

3. THE SINKING OF SIEV X

3.1. What was done in response to intelligence received that SIEV X was overcrowded and in danger of sinking?

3.2. Which emergency response authorities were warned that SIEV X was overcrowded and in danger of sinking?

3.2 a. Particularly, was AUSAR warned that SIEV X was overcrowded and in danger of sinking?

3.2.b. Particularly, was the Indonesian Search And Rescue Agency, BASARNAS, warned that SIEV X X was overcrowded and in danger of sinking?

3.3. When it became apparent that SIEV X was missing, or at least did not appear in the place and the time it was expected, what was done to ascertain that the vessel was safe?

4. THE WEATHER AT THE TIME.

The government claimed that aerial patrols were not conducted in the North West sector on the afternoon of the sinking due to the weather.

Mr McLeod finds that hard to believe, and weather reports, satellite pics, and forecasts for the area should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology. The BoM will have actual and forecast weather for the time, including Cocos and Christmas Islands aviation Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs), and aviation area forecasts that are provided for each surveillance flight, and has a good data archival and retrieval system.

Mr McLeod also finds that excuse rather thin.

4.1. The RAAF's P3 Orion aircraft were built and equipped to detect Soviet submarines, and have excellent radar systems which of course see through almost any weather and can identify most vessel types from their radar signature, so weather, apart from severe thunderstorms, is not an issue.

4.2. We doubt that there were severe thunderstorms in the area as this was some months before the build-up and arrival of the Monsoon.

5. SUMMARY

We suspect that this tragedy came about because:

5.1. Unscrupulous people -smugglers placed their customers at risk.

5.2. Indonesian officials, we know at a junior level, and probably at a very senior level, participated in the scheme for profit and to embarrass Australia. Indonesian government and/or military were actively involved, perhaps even led this enterprise, to embarrass Australia into rescuing several hundred refugees, (or failing to rescue them), and their objective was not entirely achieved because the vessel sank too soon, in the Indonesian Search And Rescue Region and the People Smuggling Task Force was too stupid to grasp what was happening.

5.3. The Australian Task Force was a political instrument, and had no operational expertise or focus.

5.4. The exclusion of operational expertise was deliberate.

5.5. As a consequence, the Task Force:

5. 5.1. - had no arrangements in place to ensure that life-threatening emergencies were responded to;

5.5.2. - had no arrangements in place to forward significant information to relevant emergency response authorities, indeed tended to hoard information;

5. 5.3. - had no way of understanding what information was significant;

5.5.4. - focused instead on political and bigoted considerations.

5.5.6. When it appeared that a tragedy may have occurred, or indeed may still be occurring, the Task Force did not understand that they were the only people who had the three vital pieces of information ('boat in danger of sinking + boat dangerously overloaded + boat not there any more'), that was needed to implement a search and rescue action, and locked themselves into a confused bureaucratic 'seek more information, it's got nothing to do with me' psychology, rather than implement an active response.

5.5.7. AUSAR and the Indonesia Search And Rescue agency, BASARNAS, or the operational arms of the ADF, the only organisations that could have added 1 + 1 + 1 together, ie responded to the information,
a.. that SIEV X was dangerously overcrowded,
b.. that SIEV X was in danger of sinking,
c.. that SIEV X was missing;
were out of the loop.

5.8. We believe that the root cause of all of the above was a callous indifference, implemented as part of the political process, leading to the development of a 'group think' that Australia had no moral obligation to prepare for or respond to any emergency. So we suspect that this tragedy arose because of incompetence and bigotry.

NOT THE FIRST, AND WE SUSPECT, NOT THE LAST

Something is dreadfully wrong with Australia's SAR arrangements. SIEV X was not the first Commonwealth SAR cockup, and unless lessons are learned and the required changes made, this will not be the last. Consider:

+See this webpage for a description of how the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) ignored a distress signal and allowed a man to die, then covered it up by altering documents before sending them to the Coroner, withheld other documents from him, and got rid of the public servant who refused to be part of the coverup. This website contains the altered documents, both the 'before' and 'after' versions, for downloading.

+ See the Bureau of Air Safety's report on the near- collision of two search aircraft, and how the Bureau blasts AMSA's incompetence.

+See this page (in MS Word format) where AMSA confirms that on 15 April 2001, Tasmania Police sought assistance from AMSA for a search of the greater Bass Strait area, which was beyond the resources of Tasmania Police Search and Rescue. AMSA declined to conduct a search, and 3 men were left to drift around before dying of exposure.

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