Monday, 11 December 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
SIEVX: Case Closed?

by Marg Hutton
13 March 2003

Dark Victory is a landmark achievement. As co-author David Marr said on Monday night to Phillip Adams, books like this are not usually written so close to the events they depict - one has to wait thirty years until the Australian Archives are unlocked and the murky secrets they hold are revealed. Marr & Wilkinson shine a spotlight on the dark and grubby election campaign that was run on the backs of asylum seekers and which brought Howard a third electoral victory.

Dark Victory's terrain spans the period from the rescue of the Palapa by the MV Tampa in late August to the Federal election in November 2001. Key events during those ten weeks include September 11, the 'Pacific Solution, 'Children Overboard' and SIEVX.

Painstakingly researched, the chapters on the Palapa and the Tampa are particularly impressive. The authors travelled to Oslo to interview key players such as Captain Arne Rinnan and Norwegian politicians. Marr & Wilkinson's book is essential reading for anyone interested in how John Howard and his government used the Australian Defence Force and the military might of Operation Relex to repel asylum seekers and to secure a third term in office

Dark Victory is the first book to devote an entire chapter to the story of the tragic SIEVX voyage and has been long anticipated. Not surprisingly, given the large canvas that the authors are working on, the SIEVX chapter does little more than sketch the story of the doomed voyage from the point of view of two of the survivors. Those looking for a rigorous analysis of the CMI testimony and the obfuscation and misrepresentation of key evidence on SIEVX will not find it here.

On the plus side, Dark Victory addresses Howard's big lie concerning the sinking position of SIEVX and firmly states (based on expert oceanographical research sought by Tony Kevin in December 2002, after the ADF had been less than frank on this matter for 14 months) that the boat did not sink within Indonesian territorial waters. This redresses the erroneous CMI Report which was equivocal in regard to where SIEVX sank - seeming to come down slightly in favour of an Indonesian waters sinking position.

Marr & Wilkinson present some new evidence regarding the people smuggling disruption program in Indonesia from 'off the record' sources that seem to consist in the main of AFP officers and Defence officials. We hear of:

  • Ruddock's trip to Jakarta in June 2001 where he brought up at embassy meetings the sensitive topics of piracy and possible sabotage of boats

  • Tracking devices fitted to SIEVs at AFP's request

  • ASIS involvement after August 2001 in people smuggling disruption in Indonesia - targetting particular syndicates, including the organiser of the SIEVX voyage, Abu Quassey

None of this information is linked in any way to the chronological narrative; it just pops up in chapters from time to time.

So we read bits and pieces about the concept of disruption, but no analysis of how it might have affected or impacted on any of the boats that were on the water during the period that the book covers - not even on Palapa or Olong.

Dark Victory did not set itself the task to analyse evidence of concern to those who fear that the Australian Government was in some way complicit in the sinking of SIEVX. That there are concerns and suspicions surrounding SIEVX is not even acknowledged in this book, much less assessed, which makes it particularly disappointing that the authors closing remarks on SIEVX are:

'Australia did not kill those who drowned on SIEV X but their deaths can't be left out of the reckoning entirely.'

A Gerald-Posner-like, closing comment such as this would be acceptable in a book that had actually debated whether or not the sinking of SIEVX was more than just a tragic accident. However, this book does not attempt to do that. This comment jars and is discordant with the SIEVX chapter - it seems to come from nowhere.

That Marr and Wilkinson are prepared so firmly to shut the door on SIEVX is very troubling, when their narrative has only scratched the surface of the SIEVX Affair.

In regard to SIEVX, it would indeed be ironic if Marr and Wilkinson, in accepting off-the-record briefings from 'insiders' within government agencies that have shown themselves to be less than honest and open in evidence to the CMI and other Senate Committees, have been snowed by the very 'politics of deception' that they have so skilfully and successfully exposed in earlier chapters.

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