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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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GOVERNMENT
The Yambuk Puzzle

by Marg Hutton
2 February 2004

Background

Knowledge of the asylum seeker vessel codenamed Yambuk and its alleged organisers, Abu Quassey and Khaleed Daoed, seems to appear and disappear from the record at the whim of Australian authorities.

While the boat was notably absent in evidence to the Senate Select Committee On A Certain Maritime Incident (CMI) in 2002, it reappeared last year in relation to the extradition to Australia of Quassey's alleged associate, Khaleed Daoed.

Missing in evidence to the CMI Committee

In June 2002 the Australian Federal Police (AFP) swore out three first instance warrants for the arrest of SIEVX mastermind Abu Quassey, one of which was for his role in allegedly organising the Yambuk, which arrived at Christmas Island on 4 August 2001 just ten weeks prior to the SIEVX voyage.[1]

In July 2002, four weeks after the warrants for Quassey were issued, the Defence Internal Review of Intelligence pertaining to SIEVX was submitted to the CMI Committee. This review included a three page document headed 'SIEV X Chronology' which supposedly documented all information received by the Department of Immigration (DIMIA) and other Australian authorities regarding Abu Quassey and the SIEVX voyage (p1, p2, p3). Significantly, this chronology did not include Yambuk.[2]

By omitting Yambuk from the picture, the false impression was given to the Senate Committee that Quassey had been planning the SIEVX voyage from as far back as July 2001. This helped to bolster the perception that intelligence regarding asylum seeker voyages was imprecise and sketchy and could not be relied upon by Australian authorities.

It was not only Defence who failed to inform the CMI Committee about the Yambuk.

When witnesses from the Department of Immigration appeared at the CMI Committee in July 2002, Acting Deputy Secretary, Ms Nellie Siegmund, stated that DIMIA first heard about 'this particular organiser with this particular boat' (meaning Quassey and SIEVX) 'back in July'. (CMI 2012 and quoted in CMI Report at para 8.30)

Senator Faulkner also asked Siegmund if she had noted any omissions in the Defence Review of Intelligence. This was her opportunity to inform the Committee that Quassey had sent Yambuk to Christmas Island in August and so is unlikely to have been organising the SIEVX voyage in July:

Senator FAULKNER-Is there anything that is missing from that time line? There are two issues about accuracy: what is there and whether there is any material not there that should be.

Ms Siegmund-No, I have not found anything that is missing. Given that I saw it this morning and went through it, I basically compared it to our records of the DINs, the intelligence notices that we produced at the time. I have not found anything that was missing. [emphasis added] (CMI 2010)

The CMI Committee took this information at face value and repeated it in their Report: 'The first reports on SIEV X can be traced to July 2001' (CMI Report para 8.27)

For the Committee this was further evidence of 'the varying signals on SIEV X' that Australian agencies had been receiving for the three months that Quassey had supposedly been organising the fatal SIEVX voyage. (CMI Report para 8.29)

Admittedly this omission is not as significant as some others - for example, the failure of DIMIA witnesses to alert the Committee to the fact that Quassey had previously sent a boat to Christmas Island in March 2001 that was the subject of an AMSA alert and which required emergency rescue. But given that the sinking of SIEVX resulted in the deaths of 353 people, any oversight in information provided to the CMI Committee about this matter is hard to understand.

At best, the omission of the Yambuk in evidence is indicative of extremely sloppy work and lack of attention to detail by two government departments. At worst it is further evidence of deliberate concealment of important information from the Committee.

Back in the picture with Khaleed Daoed

The Yambuk reappeared late last year with the extradition of Khaleed Daoed from Sweden to Australia.

A warrant was issued for Daoed on 16 May 2003 in respect of his alleged role as an organiser of the SIEVX voyage. Three weeks later a further warrant was issued for his role in the Yambuk voyage.[3]

It appears that the charges against Daoed for Yambuk were a contigency plan in the event that the SIEVX charges should fail to be proven. (I am not a lawyer, but it does seem puzzling that people-smuggling charges could be laid against Daoed concerning SIEVX when manslaughter charges could not - especially when you consider that SIEVX failed to arrive in Australia because it sank and that people smuggling is not a crime in Indonesia where the fatal SIEVX voyage began).[4]

It will be interesting to see if contradictions in the record such as this will be utilised by Daoed's lawyers when his case eventually comes to trial. Daoed's committal hearing is due to resume in Brisbane on 5 April.


NOTES

1. It was not until January 2003 - seven months after the CMI Committee finished hearing evidence - that the AFP made this information public. (See AFP, QoN #55. For information on the arrival of the Yambuk see DIMIA Fact Sheet 74a, p.6)

2. This was not the only omission by the Defence Review. I have written before of how the review denigrated, misrepresented and concealed key evidence in order to reach the false conclusion that the sinking position of SIEVX could not be determined (see 'SIEVX & the DFAT Cable: The Conspiracy of Silence', pp. 18-21).

3. According to a spokesperson from Senator Ellison's office, 'the SIEVX warrant was issued on 16 May 2003, while the Yambuk warrant was issued on 6 June 2003'. The Yambuk is also mentioned in an article by Helena Nyman published in the Swedish newspaper Arbetarbladet in October 2003, prior to Daoed's extradition. To my knowledge, Nyman's article is the only public reference (other than an earlier article published on this website) that Daoed is being charged in relation to the Yambuk.

4. For further information see this article.

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