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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
New Maps Expose Further Holes In Government's SIEVX Story

17 July 2003

Hutton&Kevin Map 1  Hutton&Kevin Map 2
 

The following article appeared in today's Canberra Times, with the two maps above:

NEW HOLES IN SIEV X STORY

Almost two years after the tragic sinking of the SIEV X, new disclosures are exposing more holes in the official version of events - Tony Kevin reports:

An unmistakeable sense of ennui had settled over the SIEV X saga, at least in terms of mainstream public news.

A few weeks ago, Senator Ellison, the Minister responsible for the Australian Federal Police, responded in apparent puzzlement to further SIEV X-related questions in Estimates from Senators Faulkner and Collins, on the lines of: "You're not still querying that old stuff, are you? This was all dealt with in the CMI [children overboard] Senate enquiry last year".

However the loose ends left by the Senate's SIEV X enquiry last year continue quietly to unravel.

There is a striking lack of credibility in the Government's entire account of its alleged continuing pursuit (since November) of SIEV X voyage organiser Abu Quassey (who is now home safely in Egypt, after the Indonesians finally released him to Egyptian police in March), and of Quassey's book-keeper, Khaled Daoed.

Daoed is a UNHCR-sponsored refugee now resident in Sweden. Daoed was recently the subject of an unexpected AFP extradition application to Sweden.

AFP now claims he was the ringleader in the SIEV X people smuggling venture.

But Daoed probably knows little if anything about his boss Abu Quassey's clandestine contacts with Indonesian police, people- smuggling or disruption agents. That was during Quassey's strange career as a protected people smuggler. So Daoed will not be able to give this game away. Is it hoped that the SIEV X accountability trail will end with him?

Another key element of the story is the crucial question - where did SIEV X sink?

My original testimony as to why I was convinced the boat sank in international waters and in Australia's Operation Relex surveillance zone was dismissed by official witnesses.

The official version went through several stages. First, John Howard was confidently claiming just four days after the disaster that the boat sank in Indonesian waters; that it was not Australia's responsibility.

Later, Senator Hill and defence witnesses were saying the boat sank in or near the Sunda Strait. Finally Admiral Raydon Gates concluded (in his written review of evidence submitted to the CMI Committee in July last year) that:

"Defence can only speculate as to where the vessel foundered."

The CMI Report accepted this presumably authoritative final Defence conclusion of uncertainty. And there the matter officially rests now.

But four pieces of public evidence point to SIEV X sinking in the middle of the north-west sector of the Operation Relex air surveillance zone, "Area Charlie". There is no contrary evidence.

The four items of evidence are:

Almost certainly, all of this evidence was known to senior Operation Relex officials at the time the Gates review of intelligence was submitted to the CMI. Both the DIMA report and the Embassy cable had had very wide distributions. Yet neither document was yet in the public arena.

The former only surfaced in September 2002, after the CMI had completed hearings. The latter surfaced in February 2003.

We have now accurately charted these four pieces of evidence on the templates of maps submitted to the CMI by Defence as part of the Gates intelligence review. [cf RAAF surveillance maps - flight path, surface contacts, expanded NW quadrant]

The four points produce a remarkable geographical congruence. See our Map 1: JH is where the North Jakarta Harbour Master recorded on October 24 2001 that the fishing boat returning 44 survivors to Jakarta had reported to him that these survivors were rescued on October 20. This official Indonesian document has never been acknowledged as evidence by our Defence Department.

Point DI is where a DIMA Intelligence Note of October 23 2001 reported the boat sank, 'approximately 60 NM south of the Sunda Strait'.

We charted point DI on the direct line of route to Christmas Island. Point EC is the southerly limit of where Australia's Jakarta Embassy cable of October 23 2001 reported the boat may have sunk - at "up to 8 degrees south latitude".

Point G is where Don Greenlees in the Australian on October 24, 2001 reported that the boat sank - 'about 80km from land'. Again, it is mapped on the line of route from point S - measured from the last nearest point of land (Cape Cangkuang) .

The mapped rectangle is our precise charting, from expert oceanographical calculations by Professor Tomczak of Flinders University, of likely survivor drift directions and distance ranges.

This 'drift box' shows where the boat most probably sank, by measuring back from the rescue coordinates point JH.

The centre of this box, which we name point T, is the point of highest probability of sinking according to his calculations of drift.

All these four points JH, DI, G and T are close to one another. Point EC is not far south. All five points are around the centre of the north-west sector of Operation Relex's surveillance flight area. Collectively, they reinforce a high probability that SIEV X sank in this area.

An RAAF Orion overflew the rescue area the morning after SIEV X sank, on Saturday October 20 between 8am and 10am. The Orion's reported approximate flight path (as copied from the Defence maps submitted to CMI) appears in grey. Our map charts (from the Defence maps) the four nearest recorded detections to the rescue coordinates. The closest is 27 nautical miles to the west.

The Defence maps do not record any detection of ships anywhere in the area of the rescue coordinates. Yet we know from numerous survivor accounts that between 8am and noon on this day October 20, 44 survivors were being rescued by one or more Indonesian fishing boats.

If the rescue was taking place in this area surely the RAAF aircraft would have had to see, or record by radar, these Indonesian boats in the area?

Yet the Defence map which claims to record all detections on this flight shows no boats in this area.What has happened?

It is not stated in any official CMI written evidence or testimony that there was adverse weather in this area on October 20. The Gates review says the aircraft achieved 100 per cent coverage of the northwest sector.

Oral witness testimony in CMI regarding Orion flights was that all detections were recorded; and that the post-flight reports for each of the Orion flights had been reviewed.

The RAAF Orion made three consecutive parallel passes in the Operation Relex north-west sector, the second being directly above the rescue coordinates. Between 0752 and 0819, the Orion reported several in-sector visual detections in the area west-northwest of the rescue coordinates.

It then flew a third and final pass in a south-easterly direction, a little to the north of the rescue coordinates, on its way to the next reported series of detections around the easternmost end of the north- east sector, which took place in the time-range 1021-1045.

The distance between this first and second reported groups of detections is approximately 250 nautical miles.

According to the stated detection times, it took the Orion some two hours to cover that distance, from 0819 to 1021. But a P3 Orion flies on task at an airspeed between 200 and 330 nautical miles/hour. So it should have covered that distance, if flying a direct path, in around one hour. What was the Orion doing in the unaccounted-for hour of flying time?

I have earlier asked whether Operation Relex might have turned a blind eye to the SIEV X tragedy taking place inside its surveillance area. The evidence set out in this article shows the pertinence of those questions.

Can the Gates review of intelligence and associated oral CMI testimony by others still be regarded as fully reliable?

And if not, might the CMI's exoneration of the ADF role in the failure to help the victims on SIEV X need to be reopened ?

This is only one dimension, albeit an important one, of an increasingly suspect Australian government account of its role in the SIEV X tragedy that killed 353 people 146 children, 142 women, 65 men. The questions continue to build.


Tony Kevin is a Visiting Fellow, Research School of Pacific and Asian History at the ANU. This article is based on his research with Marg Hutton of www.sievx.com. Both Kevin and Hutton are about to receive inaugural awards as "Just Australians of the Year" from the A Just Australia organisation for their investigative work on SIEV X.

 

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