I remember the 146 children, 142 women and 65 men who drowned on the high seas seeking refuge in Australia nine years ago today. This tragedy swept away entire families and scattered the few dozen survivors to the four corners of the globe.
I remember Sadiq who struggled all night to stay afloat with his baby daughter Kauthar on his shoulders; his bravery, care and concern for his child in stark contrast to the lies and slurs of the government of the time who falsely claimed asylum seekers were throwing their children overboard to emotionally blackmail their way into Australia. (Sadiq and Kauthar were resettled in Finland.)
I remember Sabah, the last man to be rescued, the 45th survivor, who fought for his life in the water for two whole nights before being found. He lost his wife and two children and was the only one left alive of a group of about 20 who all perished on their planks waiting for rescue. (Sabah now lives in Norway.)
I remember Zaynab, the twelve year old girl who lost both her parents and all her brothers and sisters to the Indian Ocean. She was the first of the SIEVX survivors to be granted entry to Australia. (She lived here with extended family for several years but returned permanently to Iran some time ago.)
I remember Ammar, the twelve year old boy whose mother, brother, three sisters, uncle, aunt and two cousins all lost their lives on SIEVX. (Ammar has been trying to make it all on his own in Canada for years now since his father remarried and returned to Iraq.)
I remember Faris who lost his beloved wife and daughter on SIEVX. He was one of only seven survivors of the sinking who were granted residence in Australia. Even now, years later, he still sometimes wakes in the night screaming from all he has endured.
I remember Amal, who was "like a camera" and who, for the four years she lived among us here in Australia before her death from cancer in 2006, was driven to give testimony and share with us her story of the sinking. I remember the wails of the women at Edwardes Lake Park on the first anniversary as Amal recounted first in Arabic and then in English what had happened to her and her son, Rami on that terrible day.
I remember the father who on hearing of the sinking of SIEVX refused water, because drinking it reminded him of the drowning of his three beautiful young daughters, Eman, aged 9, Fatima aged 7, and Zahra aged 6, who he would never see again.
I remember Mohammad, Ghazi, Ali and Hazam and the many other fathers living in Australia in 2001 whose families were unable to reunite with them due to the inhumane restrictions of Temporary Protection Visas. The desperate wives and children of these men were left with no alternative but to pay a people smuggler to bring them to Australia if they wanted to see their menfolk again. So they travelled on SIEVX and were swallowed by the sea.
I remember Basam and the 22 other Mandean passengers who were resourced and knowledgeable and fortunate enough to be able to negotiate their way off the doomed boat before it sank. Basam and his family were lucky enough to survive SIEVX but they waited in Indonesia for more than six years after the sinking before being granted entry into Australia.
I remember the first anniversary and all the concerned, generous people who donated towards a paid memorial advertisement in the Australian. Enough money was raised to also provide some small assistance to the few survivors living in Australia at that time.
I remember the Launceston man who on the first anniversary ascended the bell tower at Chalmers Church and tolled the bell for each of the 353 lives lost on SIEVX; this took hours.
I remember the online condolence book created by a woman whose naval officer father was lost at sea during WWII; this woman knew what it was to have no grave or marker to remember her loved one and so in sympathy created 'Jannah'.
I remember the cairn of stones erected on the northern headland of Christmas Island in memory of the victims of SIEVX and other asylum seekers who have drowned en route.
I remember the astonishingly beautiful memorial of painted poles snaking along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin - one pole for each life lost, hand painted by school children, community groups and bereaved fathers of the victims.
I remember the songs, paintings, sculptures and installations inspired by SIEVX that continue to keep alive the public memory of this incident.
I remember the former Australian Ambassador who first brought concerns about SIEVX to the attention of the Senate. It was due primarily to his efforts that the Senate Committee investigating the Children Overboard Affair expanded its terms of reference to include SIEVX.
I remember all the people who have helped build this online archive - donating time, skills and knowledge.
I remember Abu Quassey, the smuggler responsible for the SIEVX voyage who conveniently managed to escape Australian justice through extradition from Indonesia to his home country of Egypt in 2003 where he was tried for his part in the SIEVX deaths and served a meagre five years in prison for his crimes.
I remember the five Senate Resolutions concerning SIEVX, calling for a judicial inquiry into the people smuggling disruption program and the circumstances of the sinking of SIEVX and asking for the government to release the list of the names of those who died on the boat. These resolutions continue to be ignored.
I remember Senator Jacinta Collins' valedictory speech on leaving Parliament in 2005 where she referred to the emotional effect SIEVX had on her and reaffirmed the need for a judicial inquiry into the sinking.
I remember former Senator Andrew Bartlett's moving speech in Parliament on the second anniversary. SIEVX is etched indelibly into his memory because 'the day that all those children drowned, was the same day that [his] first and only daughter... was born'.
I remember page after page of blacked out documents concerning SIEVX that were submitted in evidence to the Senate CMI Committee. What secrets were concealed under all that black ink?
I remember the disappointing Senate Report that not only failed to establish where the boat sank but also halved the number of children who lost their lives. This report also failed to dig below the surface in regard to questionable testimony and incomplete evidence from several government agencies.
I remember the other Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel (SIEV) that sank en route to Christmas Island less than two weeks before SIEVX sailed - the infamous 'Children Overboard' boat that raised a flag as a distress signal and and was towed in a holding pattern by HMAS Adelaide for 24 hours before it sank. Canberra would not allow the Adelaide to rescue the asylum seekers aboard that vessel until it sank and the passengers were actually in the water. Strangely, this boat is remembered for the incident that did not happen (asylum seekers throwing children overboard) rather than the one that did (an Australian Navy ship ordered to let a boat sink before rescuing its passengers so as to ensure Australia wasn't being 'suckered into a SOLAS' by wily asylum seekers.)
I remember former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Keelty claiming public interest immunity when questioned about whether tracking devices had been placed on SIEVs. Keelty's refusal to answer this question fuelled suspicions that the fatal SIEVX voyage had been tracked by Canberra.
I remember the Australian Federal Police nightly trawl of this website. It is difficult to imagine what the AFP expected to achieve with this surveillance.
I remember year after year of SIEVX related Questions on Notice put to the Howard Government by Senators Jacinta Collins, Christine Milne and others. Time was always on the side of the government with this slow motion tortuous ballet of evasion and obfuscation; eventually agencies like Defence repeatedly refused point blank to answer any questions put to them concerning SIEVX.
Above all, I remember Labor Senator John Faulkner's passionate resolve to get to the truth about SIEVX:
|[W]hat about the vessel now known as SIEVX, part of the people-smuggling operation of the notorious people smuggler Abu Quassey? That vessel set sail on 18 October 2001 and sank on 19 October 2001, drowning 353 people, including 142 women and 146 children. Were disruption activities directed against Abu Quassey? Did these involve SIEVX?
I intend to keep asking questions until I find out. And, Mr Acting Deputy President, I intend to keep pressing for an independent judicial inquiry into these very serious matters.
At no stage do I want to break, nor will I break, the protocols in relation to operational matters involving ASIS or the AFP.
But, those protocols were not meant as a direct or an indirect licence to kill.
I remember the strong belief that things would change when Labor came to power as they would make good on their committment to hold a full powers Judicial Inquiry into SIEVX and the people smuggling disruption program operating in Indonesia at the time.
I remember the profound disappointment and anger when it became apparent that an Inquiry into SIEVX would not be held under the Rudd Labor government. With the Gillard government lurching further to the right on the issue of asylum seekers it is now extremely unlikely that SIEVX will be the subject of a formal investigation in the foreseeable future.
I firmly believe that if the passengers on SIEVX had been of a different background than Middle Eastern Muslim that a thorough investigation would have long ago been held into this tragedy.
'The loss of SIEV X is Australia's loss: 146 children died, some quickly others slowly; they should have grown up to be Australian - we will remember them. 142 women died, loving women who bravely traversed the world because Australia promised freedom once - we will remember them. 65 men - doctors, an engineer, linguists - fine and resourceful people we would have been proud to call Australian - we will remember them.
As we mark [the ninth] anniversary of 353 human lives lost, as this tragedy [continues to] knife its way into the soul of our nation, we remember you with burning hearts. Rest in Peace for you are not forgotten, nor will you ever be forgotten. You are part of this country and its people.'
(Source: Mary Dagmar Davies, Eva Sallis, Pamela Curr and Garry Bickley;
Edited from 'Jannah the SIEVX Memorial' condolence messages and published in the Australian
newspaper on the first anniversary of the sinking, 19 October 2002.)