Coronial inquest into asylum seeker boat tragedy off Christmas Is. begins
Updated 11 hours 30 minutes ago
Almost a year ago to the day, a rickety boat carrying more than 200 asylum seekers sank north-west of Christmas Island. It was another of those journey that's at the heart of the bitter political feud over how immigration policy is made in Canberra. The sinking caused scores of deaths and the circumstances are the subject of a coronial inquest in Perth that got underway today.
Source: PM | Duration: 3min 42sec
Topics: immigration, perth-6000
PETER LLOYD: Almost a year ago to the day, a rickety boat carrying more than 200 asylum seekers sank north-west of Christmas Island.
It was another of those journeys that's at the heart of the bitter political feud over how immigration policy is made and broken in Canberra.
But scores of those onboard that day lost their lives in the sinking, and the circumstances are now the subject of a coronial inquest in Perth that got underway today.
Bronwyn Herbert is covering the case for us, and joins me on the line.
Bronwyn, what's the Coroner investigating exactly?
BRONWYN HERBERT: The West Australian Coroner Alistair Hope is investigating the deaths of 17 asylum seekers who were aboard that vessel that capsized in Indonesian waters in June last year who died.
And he's trying to establish who should have rescued these people and when.
As you mentioned, there was more than 200 people on board that vessel - 214 in fact, 210 from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as four Indonesian crew members - and basically the Coroner has been hearing evidence in terms of the number of distress calls that were made from when the boat, when the Australian authorities were first alerted, and, to when actually the first search and rescue effort happened, which was more than two days later.
PETER LLOYD: What do we know about the amateurish standard of this boat? How bad was it on board?
BRONWYN HERBERT: Well we did hear that it was a leaky boat; it was a termite-ridden vessel, there was only 100-odd lifejackets, and many of those lifejackets were actually broken when they were immersed in water; that there was an inexperienced and inattentive crew.
Pictures we have seen, although, the pictures that have been shown so far are actually when the vessel was first seen; it was still actually in a an OK state, but evidence that's been provided by some of the survivors in statements talks about in the middle of the night, waking up and just being within pools of water and trying to wake up the crew so that someone could actually try and pump the water.
But it all became too late, and the water then had entered the engine, and then in a very short space of time the boat was on its side and everyone was out in the water, or trying to actually hold on to what was left of the vessel.
PETER LLOYD: How much is the search and rescue operation of the Australian services at the heart of this inquest?
BRONWYN HERBERT: It is a large part, because the Coroner - there's not really a question as to when the Australian authorities officially said the search and rescue operation is underway, was initiated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority - but, when it did, was officially underway, they did a fantastic job and people were rescued quite quickly, but it was the delay between when those first distress phone calls were made and two days later of actually that being called into an operation.
And it seems a bit of buckpassing between the Australian authorities and their Indonesian counterparts, particularly the contact between the two, and given that they were, it was difficult to find out the GPS coordinates for some time as to whether, because they were in Indonesian waters - whether that was Australia's responsibility or not.
So that is still to be investigated, as to whether AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) was under an obligation to commence the rescue operations before handing it over to Indonesia.
PETER LLOYD: Bronwyn Herbert in Perth, thanks for your time.
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