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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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Survivors Speak: Issam & Rajaa

by Marg Hutton
6 July 2003

This is the fourth in our series of lightly edited survivor transcripts. Issam Mohamad Ismail (also known as Essam Al Haddad) is 'Person 7' in Keysar Trad's transcript of survivor interviews. Issam's wife Rajaa and his youngest son Hossam survived the sinking, but his eldest son Ammar drowned. Issam & Rajaa were travelling with Issam's aunt and three cousins - the wife and daughters of Ali Mehdi Sobie - who all lost their lives on SIEVX. Issam had the terrible duty of informing his uncle that his wife and daughters had drowned.

According to Ghassan Nakhoul who is in contact with the family, Issam has returned to Iran, but his wife and son are now living in Sweden.

SIEVX survivors, Issam & Rajaa Ismail I saw my friend Abu Fatima drown along with his wife, two sons and two daughters. I felt as if I was choking as women and children clung on to me. I was able to swim because I was wearing a life jacket.

The break up of the boat separated my family. My son Ammar also drowned. My younger son [Hossam pictured below] was rescued by a man by the name of Alaa' who also survived.

As the sun was setting I heard a voice that I recognised - it was that of my wife. Another passenger who was a good swimmer rescued my wife and then died himself. My wife and I clung on to a piece of timber and we each were wearing a life jacket. We were both rescued.

We prayed 'God, if this pleases you, we will not complain, you are the most compassionate.'

The strong rain continued. As we tired, I suggested to my wife that there was nothing to live for after losing our children. My wife said 'No, we have to survive.' She said to me, 'My great-great-grandfather Hussain said we must hang on. God will keep us alive so that we can tell our story - the world must know.'

The next day at approximately 11am, still clinging to the piece of timber being pushed around by the waves, we were rescued by the fishing boats. Then I saw the other people crying. We were a large family [with uncle's wife and children]. Now there are only three of us.

Other sources of information about Issam & Rajaa's family:

  • The Five Mysteries of SIEV X ~ Ghassan Nakhoul, 28 Aug 2002
    ISSAM MOHAMAD ISMAIL: The sea turned rough all of a sudden. The waves became very high. It started raining heavily and it became dark. God, be praised, poured out all his wrath in that hour. The boat started swaying. The men tried to balance it by running from side to side. At the end we surrendered to death. We all recited the death prayer. It just took 15 minutes for the boat to sink...

    PRESENTER: Rajaa Ismail, Issam's wife, said something had broken in the bottom of the boat before it sank.

    RAJAA ISMAIL: It was in the cellar. I was there because, sorry for the word, I was dizzy and vomiting. A small hole opened first and the water started pouring in. The boat lost its balance and started swaying from side to side before it flopped. It broke from the bottom, from the cellar.

    PRESENTER: Issam went further than his wife to say that the boat was so worn out, even before it had sailed. He likened it to the structure of carton.

    ISSAM MOHAMAD ISMAIL: The part that was above the water was only half a metre. The boat was not seaworthy. Not even for fishing let alone for carrying people. It was like a carton. Do you know how the carton is?

    PRESENTER: When the refugees realised that their trip would be fraught with danger, some of them protested and tried to get off the boat. But the smugglers were quick to act.

    ISSAM MOHAMAD ISMAIL: He (the smuggler) pulled out a revolver and said 'I'll kill you.' He (the refugee) replied 'kill me'. He said 'I will not let you off'. There were policemen with the smuggler. They had automatic guns. The 21 people who got off the boat on an island before the incident didn't manage to leave the ship before we had sailed for about 20 hours...

    [Rajaa and Issam also told Nakhoul about the mysterious boats that survivors claim watched but did not rescue them]

    RAJAA ISMAIL: The three of them were turning around us. We didn't know how to swim. When I saw the boats' lights, I said to my husband 'relief is coming. They will save us. They will help us', and we started shouting. They couldn't hear us of course because the boats' engine noise. Even if we had a loudspeaker, they wouldn't.

    ISSAM ISMAIL: When we saw them we suffered more. They reached us. I swear to God, trust in the Almighty God, they got very close. One of them was just next to us...

    RAJAA ISMAIL: We found that when we moved our legs we would almost reach them. I said to my husband 'Issam, Issam, we will reach them. Yes they have arrived.' But every time we moved our legs and we wanted to reach them, they would take their lights away from us...

    PRESENTER:Returning to our previous question, has the story of lights been fabricated? The survivors have said that they couldn't distinguish the colour of the ships as it was too dark and the lights were directed to them. However, they have insisted on the credibility of their story.

    RAJAA ISMAIL: Three; I swear to God. We saw the three of them turning around us...

    PRESENTER: The survivors insist that some Indonesian police officers are deeply involved in people smuggling. What Issam Ismail remembers of the fateful sailing day gives a clear idea about the calibre of that mysterious man, Abu Quossey, with whom rests the mystery of mysteries, the fifth one.

    ISSAM ISMAIL: The Indonesian police were there. They were carrying automatic guns. They were so comfortable. They were the ones who gave the signals with their torches. Turning on the torch was a signal to send out people. Turning off the torch meant stop. That was how it was done darling. We saw them with our own eyes. They had weapons we had never seen before. The latest brands... [Full report]

  • Survivors tell of horror ~ Lindsay Murdoch, 24 Oct 2001
    SIEVX survivor Hossam,  son of Issam & Rajaa Ismail

    Zainab, a 12-year-old Iraqi girl who lost her father, mother, two brothers and two sisters - her entire immediate family - sat dazed among the survivors as she told how a 15-year-old Iraqi boy named Esam, whom she had never met before, held her throughout the night. "He kept saying, `don't let go. Don't let go'," she said.

    Esam lost his 19-year-old brother. His father Kisam and mother Rejabab, who survived, yesterday adopted Zainab into their family. "We will not give up even though I have lost a son," Kisam said... [Full report]

Issam, Rajaa and Hossam appear in the list of survivors provided to the Senate by the AFP as: Essam Al Haddad, Raja Musa Al Faham and Husam Al Haddad. ( 11019) | ©Copyright Marg Hutton ~ / 2002-2014