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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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First Hard Evidence - Two Years Ago Today

by Marg Hutton
24 October 2003

Two years ago today Mr Majid the captain of the Arta Kencana 38, one of the Indonesian fishing boats involved in the rescue of the SIEVX survivors, lodged the coordinates of the position where the survivors had been plucked from the water with the Harbour Master at Sunda Kelapa Port in North Jakarta. The Harbour Master then distributed this information to various Indonesian authorities in a report he compiled. Seven months after the sinking, during the CMI Inquiry, this report was discovered by SBS Dateline and included in two programs about the SIEVX Affair that were broadcast in May and July 2002.

The Jakarta Harbour Master's Report is the most authoritative document regarding the location of the sinking of SIEVX.[see p.4, 16-20] Professor of Oceanography at Flinders University, Matthias Tomczak was able to take the rescue coordinates detailed in this report and assess the distance that survivors drifted during their seventeen to twenty hours in the water.

Incredibly, the Jakarta Harbour Master's Report never made it into evidence in the CMI Inquiry despite the fact that it was sent to Defence Public Relations at their request in mid 2002 by Geoff Parish of SBS Dateline who understood that it was to be included in the CMI Report.[see p.4]

It was the absence of key documents such as this and the infamous DFAT cable from the evidentiary record of the CMI Committee that made it possible for the CMI Report to equivocate over the sinking location.

Even now, two years after the SIEVX disaster, the government is still claiming that it doesn't know where SIEVX sank and that it has never investigated the information contained in the Jakarta Harbour Master's report concerning the rescue coordinates. This is despite the fact that Defence undertook a review of intelligence pertaining to SIEVX last year which was tabled at the CMI Committee as evidence and which grossly misrepresented the Harbour Master's Report! [see pp. 16-20]

Recently sievx.com prepared a map charted on an RAAF surveillance template which shows quite clearly that when one factors in the drift and the rescue coordinates that there is indeed data present in the RAAF surveillance maps which further supports the probable sinking position as deduced from the Harbour Master document and the Tomczak assessment. This is at odds with information supplied to the CMI Committee.

On the last day of the CMI Inquiry, when it had been declared that the Inquiry was closing down, Senator Faulkner asked some final questions of the Commander of the Maritime Patrol Group, Air Commodore Philip Byrne:

Senator FAULKNER-You may or may not have seen it, but there has been some press commentary-most recently I could point you to a Dateline program on SBS television. That reports survivors, in some instances, actually saying to camera-I do not know if you have seen this or not- that they saw a large ship or a number of large ships shining their lights on survivors. Some thought they were, in fact, naval vessels. There was even a suggestion at one stage, which has subsequently been found to have no substance, that it might have been a Royal Australian Naval vessel involved. Are you able to indicate to us in the assessment that you have made of the contacts in this period, particularly about the time when we now know SIEVX sank, whether such reports make any sense to you from the information you have had available to you?

Air Cdre Byrne-I have looked-quite obviously it was an important point.

Senator FAULKNER-You have looked for that specifically?

Air Cdre Byrne-I did. I tried to make some sense out of it and I could not. If you look at-I think you have got the material-the radar contacts from the flights of the morning of the 19th and the 20th, they do not shed too much light on concentrations of ships, particularly merchant ships, in the vicinity of that latitude and longitude that was mentioned on the Dateline program.

Senator FAULKNER-I think the key element here is that the evening of the 19th is the night of the 19th, isnít it? That would be what we would be talking about. But you specifically looked to see whether there was anything that might make sense?

Air Cdre Byrne-I have looked to see if there is a concentration of vessels in the vicinity of the point at which the Dateline program indicates that the SIEVX went down. I could not find anything.

It should be pointed out that Byrne was in error here - SBS Dateline never claimed that the Jakarta Harbour Master's document showed where SIEVX went down.

Last week Senator Collins made the following comments concerning Justice Minister Ellison's response to a question she had put to him in July concerning the Jakarta Harbour Master's document:

More than 350 lives were lost when [SIEVX] foundered, and for there to be detailed coordinates in relation to the vessel that saved the remaining people from this vessel and for them to never have been attempted to have been corroborated-and for us to be told now so far from the time of the sinking that nobody has sought to contact the harbour master to corroborate or discount those coordinates-is outrageous.

What makes it more outrageous with respect to the Australian agencies is that we were told by Defence, during hearings of the inquiry into a certain maritime incident, that these coordinates could be discounted.

When the final round of Senate Estimates hearings for 2003 begins in ten days time it is expected that Senator Collins and others will continue to vigorously pursue this matter.

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