Inquest on asylum seeker boat tragedy to resume

July 24, 2013 - 8:43AM
Natalie O'Brien
SMH

When Ali Hazara received a text message from a friend on an asylum seeker boat that had run into trouble on its way from Indonesia, he believed they would be saved because they had reached Australian waters.

"I got the message about 10.30 or 11pm. It said, 'We are on the boat and the conditions are not good, but we are in Australian waters,' " said Mr Hazara, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

He said he went back to sleep comforted in the belief that the boat would soon be picked up by Australian authorities.

But when he checked the next morning, on June 21 last year, he discovered the overloaded boat that became known as the Kaniva, or the Siev 358, had capsized, leaving 17 men drowned and another 85 missing feared drowned. Among the missing were Hazara men Ali Akbar, Saeem Raza and Ali Hussain.

An inquest into the deaths of the 17 and what happened that night will resume in Perth on Wednesday and is expected to hear evidence from survivors of the tragedy. It is believed there were 214 people on the boat 210 were from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran and four were Indonesian crew members. All were men.

The issues to be canvassed at the inquest include not only the identities of the men who died but their cause of death, the circumstances in which the boat sank, and the rescue efforts of the Indonesian Search and Rescue agency, BASARNAS, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Ali Akbar, Ali Hussain and Saeem Raza were amongst the 17 men who drowned in the tragedy in June 2012.

It will also examine possible improvements to emergency communications or search and rescue efforts between Australia and Indonesia in Indonesia's search and rescue zone.

The court has previously been told that passengers on board the ill-fated ramshackle fishing boat had begun making a series of distress calls to Australia's Rescue Co-ordination Centre saying the boat had sustained hull damage and was taking on water - two days before it finally capsized.

Australian authorities have already been criticised for delaying a response to the distress calls while they debated who would be responsible for the rescue, Australia or Indonesia; for not complying with obligations to send out emergency broadcasts for help; and for not immediately starting a search for the boat.

WA Coroner Alastair Hope has demanded a copy of a classified report into Australia's response to the calls for help, which was prepared by Customs last year after an international outcry over the fate of the boat and the asylum seekers.

That report has been kept secret since being handed to Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare last October. A spokesman for Mr Clare has said it will be made public after the inquest.

Several survivors from the boat tragedy have indicated they wish to give evidence. They may be heard later this week.

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