Inquest to start into asylum boat sinking

June 20, 2013 - 3:49PM

A barge carrying rescued suspected asylum seekers nears Christmas Island

An inquest into the presumed deaths of more than 100 passengers on board an asylum seeker boat that sank north of Christmas Island last year will begin next week.

West Australian coroner Alastair Hope will preside over the inquiry into the sinking of the boat known as SIEV 357, which was carrying 212 people when it sank about 204 kilometres north-west of Christmas Island on June 21, 2012.

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. Advertisement

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

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

The listing comes as findings were finally revealed from an inquest into the SIEV 69, which sank on its way from India to Christmas Island in 2009.

The inquest, which was complete some six months ago, focused on Tharmeswaran Thambiaiya, a 29-year-old Sri Lankan whose body was the only one recovered from 13 who died in the incident.

In his findings, Mr Hope said language barriers and bad phone lines meant distress calls had delayed possible help for hours.

When a Taiwanese fishing vessel, the FV Kuang Win, did reach the floundering ship, it prompted two asylum seekers to swim from their stricken vessel - only to be turned away and made to swim back in dangerous conditions.

The Taiwanese boat then left the area to continue fishing, despite frantic radio messages for them to stay - an act that Mr Hope described as "callous and irresponsible".

"The recorded comments made by someone on the FV Kuang Win ... showed a remarkable disregard for the suffering and deaths of those on board SIEV 69," Mr Hope said.



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