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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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The 'Olong', aka SIEV4 -  with 223 passengers
146 children

142 women

65 men


This boat is not SIEVX.
SIEVX was smaller & carried nearly 200 more passengers.

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For earlier articles see our archives: People Smuggling | Challenging | Defending


The DFAT Cable - Senator Cook Speaks Out!

by Marg Hutton
6 February 2003

As reported by us on Tuesday, crucial new evidence appeared this week regarding SIEVX - the DFAT cable of 23 October 2001 from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta to an extensive high level distribution list including the Prime Minister, detailing the sinking of the vessel we have come to know as 'SIEVX'.

Yesterday Senator Peter Cook took the opportunity to speak out about the significance of this document (click here for the complete text of his speech).

Can anyone seriously believe that the late emergence of this cable - more than three months after the CMI Committee tabled its report and almost seven months after it was initially requested by the Committee - is due to an oversight?

Let's look at the history.

On the last day of hearing, 30 July last year, Jane Halton, the former head of the Prime Minister's People Smuggling Taskforce, appeared for the second time to give evidence before the CMI Committee and was questioned intensively about SIEVX.

During the course of her testimony Senator Faulkner asked Ms Halton about how she first became aware of the sinking of SIEVX. She replied:

'I received a phone call from Shane Castles at 2 a.m. It woke me up. I missed the call, went out and looked to see who it was and returned his call. He told me the barest bones-that he understood there was a report but that a cable would be coming later in the day that a vessel had sunk. That was it.' (CMI 2125)

This was the first time that the Committee had heard of the existence of this cable. The Labor Senators then spent much time vigorously questioning Ms Halton on its contents as she informed them that it was the primary source for the People Smuggling Taskforce minute of 23 October which stated that SIEVX was 'likely to have been in international waters south of Java' when it foundered and sank. (CMI 2126-2140).

Senator Collins asked Halton 'on notice' to ensure that a declassified copy of this cable be made available to the Committee (CMI 2131).

Two weeks later Halton wrote to the Committee saying that 'PM & C is considering this request in conjunction with DFAT'.

In the same document she also included the following remarkable information:

'Question: Which agencies provided the information that SIEV X sank in Indonesian waters?

Answer: As I indicated in providing evidence on 30 July 2002, this information can only be provided by the author of the brief who is currently overseas on long term leave. PM&C has attempted unsuccessfully to contact the officer who prepared the brief and therefore I am unable to provide any further information.' (Answers to Questions on Notice 15 August 2002)

When the CMI Report was tabled ten weeks later on 23 October the cable had still not appeared. Apparently the government was hoping that the Report would be published and the cable forgotten.

However, this missing item of key evidence had not escaped the eye of Senator Faulkner. In Senate Finance and Public Administration Estimates Committee on 20 November last year, Faulkner asked Andrew Metcalfe from PM&C about the DFAT cable:

'There is one issue I would like taken on notice, if you would not mind, Mr Metcalfe. I will not go into detail. There was one outstanding issue from the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It relates to a DFAT cable on SIEVX. I wonder whether - without going into any detail, given that that committee no longer exists - that could be taken on notice at this committee and provided when you are able to?' (F&PA 187-188)

Six weeks later, on 4 February, long after the CMI Committee had completed its work, this document was finally provided to the Senate [p1, p2, p3, p4].

There can be little doubt that the reason it has taken so long for this very important document to be produced is because it contains information that the government did not want known - that SIEVX sank in international waters inside Australia's Operation Relex surveillance zone and not in 'Indonesian waters' as repeatedly claimed by the PM during the 2001 Federal election campaign.

If the DFAT cable had been tabled at the CMI Committee when requested, the Report's finding regarding the sinking position would undoubtedly have been much stronger. Instead of equivocating over where SIEVX sank (para 8.5) the Committee would more than likely have decided on balance that the boat sank in international waters inside the Operation Relex zone.

Yesterday, the Chair of the CMI Committee, Senator Cook, in a strong statement to the Senate regarding the importance of this new evidence indicated that he was now convinced that SIEVX had sunk in 'international waters':

'The declassified DFAT cable has now been provided to us. The date on this DFAT cable, which is quite significant, is 23 October 2001. I refer to that date because the certain maritime incident inquiry occurred over the major part of last year. In other words, this DFAT cable had been circulated in October of the year before, and some six or so months before the certain maritime incident inquiry convened to probe the issues that this cable has as its subject matter.

The next significant thing about this cable that I wish to draw the Senate's attention to is the distribution list of this cable. This is a DFAT cable, but the distribution list is quite extensive. For action, it went to Dr Calvert at DFAT, to Dr Hawke, the secretary of Defence, to Admiral Barrie, the commander of the defence forces, to Mr Farmer at DIMIA, and to Mr Max Moore-Wilton in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It also went to the Prime Minister and all the relevant ministers, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the minister for immigration. It also went to the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mr Mick Keelty. There is quite an extensive distribution list for this cable.

What I think is more important than all of that is what this cable says, because we may now be in a situation in which this cable, which was before all of those officers who appeared before our inquiry before they fronted to give evidence-and they gave evidence to our inquiry after swearing an oath before the inquiry to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing else but the truth-reveals information which is not entirely consistent with the evidence that was given by some public servants and with the evidence that was adduced by the inquiry. Specifically, the point of concern was: where was SIEVX when it sank? The Prime Minister said that SIEVX was in Indonesian territorial waters. The evidence by some, and I suspect by all-but until I can exhaustively pursue it I cannot make that statement categorically-is that SIEVX is believed to have been sunk in Indonesian territorial waters. [emphasis added]

This declassified cable, dated October the year before that evidence was adduced by us, says, in the start of the summary:


That is not Indonesian territorial waters. Indonesian territorial waters are close to the borders of Indonesia. The Indonesian maritime search and rescue area of responsibility extends deep into the Timor Sea and abuts Australia. It covers what would, in layman's terms, be called international waters. A key issue in our inquiry was to try and establish what Australia knew about where SIEVX went down. The consistent refrain to that question was, `In Indonesian territorial waters'. We now know that it went down in international waters.

This is a significant piece [of] information because it goes to whether Australian search and rescue capability could have intruded into the area concerned to rescue people who were on that ill-fated ship. I remind the Senate that some 353 men, women and children drowned as result of this vessel sinking. Obviously, we are not competent to intrude into Indonesian territorial waters, but, obviously, given the deployment of vessels for border protection purposes, we are competent to rescue people from the ocean and are bound to rescue people from the ocean in international waters under the protocols of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.' [emphasis added] ( 13410) | ©Copyright Marg Hutton ~ / 2002-2014