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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
Vanstone Blunders On Quassey's Pre-SIEVX People-Smuggling Record

by Marg Hutton
29 April 2004

Yesterday I received a response from Amanda Vanstone to my letters outlining a number of concerns about DIMIA's evidence to the CMI Committee regarding SIEVX.

Importantly Vanstone's letter confirms my deduction that the SIEV codenamed Gelantipy was the subject of a search and rescue operation in the waters off Christmas Island in March 2001. This is new public information and helps to join the dots that I believe will eventually show that Australian government agencies were well aware prior to the SIEVX voyage that Abu Quassey's people smuggling ventures were extremely hazardous and life-threatening to his passengers, and that despite DIMIA witnesses assertions to the contrary in evidence to the CMI Committee, the reference in the People Smuggling Taskforce minutes of 18 October 2001 to 'some risk of vessels in poor condition and rescue at sea' definitely included the Quassey vessel, SIEVX.

Curiously Vanstone denied that Abu Quassey had any involvement in the organisation of the Gelantipy. Yet on two separate occassions last year, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Keelty and Justice Minister Ellison informed the Senate that warrants had been issued in June 2002 for the arrest of Abu Quassey for his alleged organisational role in three boats, one of which was Gelantipy (see 1, 2)

Here below is a copy of my reply to Vanstone sent earlier today. I will publish her response when I receive it:

   
Senator The Honourable Amanda Vanstone
Minister For Immigration and Multiculturalism
and Indigenous Affairs
Suite MF 40
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Re: RESPONSE BY YOUR DEPARTMENT TO MY LETTERS OF 29 JANUARY & 15 MARCH 2004 REGARDING CRUCIAL OMISSION IN DIMIA'S EVIDENCE TO THE CMI COMMITTEE CONCERNING SIEVX

Dear Minister,

Thank you for responding to my previous letters and confirming that the SIEV codenamed Gelantipy was the subject of an AMSA search and rescue in the waters off Christmas Island in March 2001.

However, I am very concerned by your statement that 'there is no information available to my Department to indicate that Abu Quassey was associated with this venture' as it appears that you have been seriously misinformed by your Department. I would be grateful if you would therefore readdress this matter and I look forward to a further reply from you.

Both Australian Federal Police Commissioner Keelty and Justice Minister Ellison provided information to the Senate on two separate occasions last year that does not support your statement.

On 9 January 2003 Commissioner Keelty stated in Answer #55 to Questions on Notice asked in Senate Legal & Constitutional Estimates on 20 November 2002:

On 3 June 2002, three first instance warrants for the arrest of Abu Quassey were sworn by the AFP with respect to three suspect illegal entrant vessels (SIEVs) known as the Donnybrook, Gelantipy and the Yambuk. The warrants allege three offences of organising the bringing of groups of unlawful non-citizens into Australia and seventy-two offences of bringing unlawful non-citizens into Australia, contrary to the provisions of sections 232A and 233(1)(a) of the Migration Act 1958 (the Act), respectively [emphasis added].

This information was reiterated to the Senate by Justice Minister Ellison on 11 August 2003:

'As advised in an answer to a question on notice from Senate Estimates hearings in November 2002, on 3 June 2002 three first instance warrants for the arrest of Abu Quassey were sworn by the AFP with respect to three suspect illegal entrant vessels (SIEVs) known as the Donnybrook, Gelantipy and the Yambuk...' [emphasis added] (see Senate Hansard, p.13093)

So given the fact of a still operational joint agency AFP-DIMIA People-Smuggling Strike Team (PSST) located in AFP but staffed by fifteen officers of both departments, and whose stated role according to Ms Siegmund's evidence to the CMI Committee was 'to undertake investigations which will hopefully lead to the prosecution of people involved in organising people-smuggling' how can it be that the AFP had enough information to issue a warrant for the arrest of Abu Quassey in respect of the Gelantipy yet your Department claims to have no knowledge of Quassey's involvement in this venture?

And how can you assert that 'my department had no basis for concluding that any vessels with which Abu Quassey was associated later in the year would have threatened the lives of persons travelling on them or that a rescue by Australian authorities would have been required'?

There appears on the face of it to have been a serious breakdown in transmission of key information about people smuggling between the two departments primarily responsible for monitoring and countering people smuggling.

There is another very troubling aspect to this matter as detailed and fully referenced in my previous letters. Given the fact that Abu Quassey had sent a boat (Gelantipy) to Christmas Island that required rescue at sea just a few months prior to the SIEVX tragedy, how is it that the representatives of your Department who appeared at the CMI Committee could state unequivocally that the reference in the PST minutes to 'some risk of vessels in poor condition and rescue at sea' did not apply to SIEVX?

Because of the continuing public interest in this matter I am copying this letter to Senators Collins, Cook, Faulkner, Kirk, Bartlett and Brown.

Yours sincerely,

Marg Hutton

29 April 2004

 
 

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