International people- smuggling ring smashed

June 9, 2013
Natalie O'Brien


Members of a people-smuggling syndicate stretching across three countries have been arrested after an international police investigation into the organisers of an asylum seeker boat that capsized last year, killing more than 100 men.

Arrests have been made in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia of key syndicate members believed responsible for the boat known as the Kaniva, which floundered for four days while passengers made numerous calls for help to authorities, including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The vessel capsized on June 21, between Indonesia and Christmas Island. But Australian agencies failed to send help to the boat until days later, when a plane flying overhead saw it overturned. The delay prompted an international outcry.

The boat was carrying 212 male passengers, of which 110 were rescued, 17 died and their bodies were recovered and 85 remain missing, presumed drowned.

In the aftermath of the sinking, the Australian Federal Police launched an investigation into the organisers of that boat and another, which sank just a week later on June 27.

The federal police's Operation Calder uncovered information about the people smuggling syndicate and some of the kingpins and passed the information to the Pakistani Federal Investigations Agency (FIA) and to the Indonesian National Police to identify the organisers and facilitators.

The Pakistani police arrested five syndicate members and, within days of the sinking, the Indonesian National Police arrested a key syndicate member. Multiple arrests have since been made in Malaysia. Two Indonesians who allegedly acted as crew members on the boat and survived the capsize have been charged with a string of people smuggling offences.

A federal police spokesman said the arrests showed the successful close co-operation between Australia and international law enforcement and the joint commitment to the fight against people smuggling.

The Australian agencies' response to the tragedy was the subject of an internal review, which the federal government has kept under wraps.

The report, which has been with the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare, since October, won't be released until after a coronial inquiry later this month.

Documents obtained under freedom of information by Fairfax Media have shown contradictory reporting between government agencies about their rescue response.

The inquest has been set down for two days, starting on June 25, but so far there is only one witness due to give evidence and that is the police investigator.

West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope has already hinted the investigation into the tragedy had not found any concerns about Australia's response to the incident.

Mr Hope has also criticised the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for not translating and forwarding letters to the survivors and relatives of asylum seekers who died, to notify them of the inquest and give them an opportunity to speak.

The Department of Immigration said the contacts details for the survivors and family of the those killed had been sent in response to a summons from Mr Hope.


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