Asylum seeker boat rescue slammed in internal report

Tim Clarke
July 24, 2013 2:54PM

THE man in charge of search and rescue efforts for asylum seekers heading for Australia has refused to reveal how the agency decides when a boat is in distress, for fear of tipping off Indonesia's people smugglers.

The inquest into the sinking of the Siev 358 in waters between Indonesia and Christmas Island in June last year, with the loss of more than 100 lives, recommenced in Perth today.

The termite-riddled boat carrying 212 passengers and crew did not even reach halfway to Christmas Island from Java before sinking, despite repeated calls to Australia's Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCCA) in Canberra claiming the ship was damaged, overcrowded, unsafe and taking on water.

Continuing his evidence, Alan Lloyd - the search and rescue manager for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) - vehemently denied his staff did not take distress calls from boats seriously.

And he also refused to divulge exactly how his operation made a judgment on whether to call for assistance for boats heading from Indonesia, saying it would immediately be exploited.

"If I said it here today, we would hear it on a phone call from a boat tomorrow,'' Mr Lloyd said.

Asked whether all distress calls from boats were taken seriously, Mr Lloyd angrily defended AMSA's record.

"We deal with 8000 incidents a year, and have a rescue rate of 99.6 per cent. I find that an offensive question,'' Mr Lloyd said.

The inquest had previously heard how it took Indonesian and Australian authorities almost two days to decide who was in charge of the rescue after they finally established a GPS position from the rickety boat, called Kaniva.

By then it was too late for 102 men and boys from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, who were fleeing the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

It was revealed an internal review into the tragedy by Customs, AMSA and the Department of Defence concluded AMSA should have done more during the boat's doomed trip from Java, after handing over the rescue responsibility to Indonesian counterparts.

Marco Tedeschi, counsel assisting coroner Alastair Hope, revealed the report criticised AMSA specifically, saying it should have been "more pro-active'' and more "forward leaning'' during the boat's ill-fated trip.

But Mr Lloyd claimed AMSA's response had been adequate.

Its officers had not believed the boat was in genuine distress and their contribution to the internal review had been largely ignored.

The report has never been made public, despite numerous requests from media outlets.

Mr Lloyd said since the sinking, new arrangements between Indonesia and Australia had been put in place, including embedding Australian officials in the Indonesian rescue centre.

But Mr Tedeschi said he still had no indication whether Indonesian authorities would give evidence to the inquest despite a personal request to their consulate.

Survivors of the tragedy are due to give evidence to the inquest tomorrow.


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