WA coroner in dispute over asylum seekers

2:49pm May 30, 2013

The West Australian coroner has criticised Australia's immigration department for not co-operating with his court over the sinking of an asylum seeker boat.

The boat known as SIEV 357 [sic] was carrying 212 people when it sank about 204km northwest of Christmas Island on June 21 last year.

Seventeen bodies were taken to Christmas Island, 85 people were reported missing and presumed dead, and 110 were rescued.

The passengers were from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

The WA coroner does not have powers to investigate the missing people but does have jurisdiction for the 17 whose bodies were recovered and intends to hold an inquest into how they died.

Two of the bodies have not been identified and one of them may never be identified, the court heard at a directions hearing on Thursday.

Coroner Alistair Hope said it was important for survivors and families of the victims to express their concerns and have them addressed during the inquest.

It was hoped that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) would be able to assist by sending translated letters to those affected, asking them to share their concerns, Mr Hope said.

However, lawyer Garry Livermore, representing the customs and defence departments, relayed information he had received from DIAC indicating it did not intend to be involved any further than supplying contact details to the coroner.

Mr Hope said that was an "unhappy and unfortunate" answer.

"I'm very disappointed at DIAC's response," he said.

Mr Hope requested, but did not make a formal direction, that DIAC send the letters.

He suggested it should not be difficult to find interpreters for three languages because DIAC should already be in contact with the families anyway.

But Mr Livermore said if an order to send the letters was made, he expected the department to dispute it.

A further directions hearing will be held in June when the matter could be raised again with lawyers for DIAC, ahead of the formal inquest.


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