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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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MEDIA

GOVERNMENT
Was A Tracking Device Fitted To SIEVX?

21 November 2002

Just when it looked like Labor had decided to put the SIEVX issue permanently on hold, Senators Faulkner and Collins placed it squarely back on the agenda when they turned the heat on Commissioner Keelty in Senate Estimates last night.

To judge by the purposeful and strong questioning of Keelty by Faulkner and Collins, Labor seems determined to pursue three very important lines of inquiry with regard to SIEVX:

  1. Will Keelty admit that tracking devices were fitted to SIEVs as part of the People Smuggling Disruption Program in Indonesia? Our sense from Senator Faulkner's persistent questioning of Keelty on this score is that Faulkner has a very strong suspicion that such a device was attached to SIEVX. If this proves to be true then it will totally collapse the Government's claim that it has never known where SIEVX sank.

  2. If and how will the AFP pursue Abu Quassey when his short jail sentence is completed on 1 January next year? Last night Commissioner Keelty indicated that there is no current intention to prosecute Quassey over the sinking of SIEVX. Our understanding is that Australia can only indict Quassey if it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that SIEVX sank outside Indonesian territorial seas - ie within international waters.

    This is a key issue and it is one of the reasons that the CMI Report was such a disappointment.

    By the end of its work, the CMI Committee had four pieces of strong evidence that SIEVX sank in international waters and in Australia's declared border protection operational zone:

    These four pieces of strong evidence point consistently to SIEVX sinking in the same area between 50 and 60 nautical miles south of Java, well inside the Australian operational zone and well into international waters. And yet the CMI Majority Report chose to sit on the fence about this crucial issue, giving equal weight to two less substantive (and in one instance misrepresented) pieces of evidence that indicated the boat may have sank in Indonesian territorial waters. (See CMI Report paras. 8.5, 8.144 [8.145 in hard copy report])

    First, 'PM and C email traffic of 24 October' [p1, p2, p3] that the vessel capsized between Java and Sumatra. On looking up this document, we find it was actually a 'preliminary' internal email sent on the morning of 23 October and thus clearly having far less evidentiary weight than the two substantive circulated intelligence reports later that day.

    The Report secondly refers to advice provided to the Prime Minister on 24 October, which referred to the boat sinking in 'Indonesian waters'. But on looking into this, we find it is frail evidence indeed. It relies solely on Jane Halton's oral testimony on 30 July 2002 (CMI final Hansard, pages 2127-2137). Halton claimed that an inter-agency report was produced in PM and C and sent to John Howard on 24 October. She declined to table the report, saying it was not 'her gift' because interdepartmentally sourced. She declined to name the agency that provided the information. She declined to name the author of the report, who she later said was currently on long service leave overseas. To cap it all, she covered herself that the report's sub-heading 'Boat sunk in Indonesian waters' did not necessarily mean territorial waters; she said it could equally have referred to the Indonesian so-called 'search and rescue zone' which extends to south of Christmas Island!

    It will be a bitter irony indeed if prosecution of Quassey cannot proceed because it cannot be proved that SIEVX sank in international waters...

  3. What information Australian agencies hold on those who lost their lives on SIEVX? Senator Collins was very effective in highlighting how much is already known about this - for example, the 210 names known to have been cross-checked by the IOM.

The importance of last night's exchanges in Estimates between Labor Senators and Commissioner Keelty is that it demonstrates that Faulkner and Collins are committed to pursuing the SIEVX issue.

This Affair is far from over.

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