Emergency authorities uncertain if distress calls from sinking boat were genuine

By Rebecca Dollery
26 June 2013

An inquest has heard Australian authorities did not interpret calls from a stricken asylum seeker boat as distress calls before passing control of the incident to Indonesian authorities.

The hearing in the Perth Coroner's Court is investigating whether authorities acted fast enough to rescue more than 200 people on board the boat.

A total of 110 people were rescued but more than 100 died as the boat capsized in international waters between Indonesia and Christmas Island in June last year.

The boat made several calls to the Rescue Coordination Centre Australia to indicate it was damaged and had taken on water before responsibility for the rescue was passed on to Indonesia.

The centre, which is part of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, AMSA, told the boat to turn back.

Today, AMSA's manager of search and rescue operations, Allan LLoyd, fundamentally rejected the notion AMSA should have taken responsibility for the search and rescue.

Mr LLoyd told the court the authority had not determined if the calls were genuine before Indonesia became involved.

"We want to be reasonably confident that a vessel is in distress before we issue an emergency broadcast," he said.

"We have to confirm they are telling us an accurate story, it was an ongoing assessment and we were still in the gathering information phase."

Mr Lloyd said Australia did not make queries about what Indonesia intended to do once control was passed over.

"[The] tone and information during the call from asylum seekers was not in the form of a distress call," he said.

"If there had been genuine indication that there was distress, we would have acted immediately."


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